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Concha: After Foley Beheading, Obama Making Golf Getaways Difficult to Defend

Like Democrats and many Republicans alike, I’ve defended the president regarding the vacations or golf excursions he has chosen to take during his tenure.

Obvious statement here, but it’s a stressful, intense, non-stop job. Just look at the way every president ages so quickly upon entering the office. Downtime and reflection is a must, and as a not-so-great southpaw golfer myself (4-5 times per year), it can be a cathartic, relaxing experience to recharge the batteries (when hitting it straight, anyway).

As for playing too often, Mr. Obama has played 190 rounds as president, which sounds like a lot until considering Dwight Eisenhower racked up 800 rounds and Woodrow Wilson somehow got in a reported 1,200 (really, how is that even mathematically possible?). It should also be noted that the current president has also taken less vacation to this point than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

However, for the president to play today — of all days — less than 24 hours removed from the horrific, savage, unspeakable beheading of American journalist James Foley, it’s becoming impossible to defend Obama on this point now. The president condemned ISIS as any leader would, but no more than 15 minutes later he was warming up at the first hole.

Of course, the common argument seen on social media against those saying the president should have put the wrenches away out of respect to Mr. Foley and his family basically goes something like this: “What do you want him to do?” followed by some variation of everything from asking if the commander-in-chief should fly to Mosul to personally fight ISIS to stating the Oval Office is a mobile entity and therefore doesn’t preclude a president from doing the job, even from a sand trap.

But optics really do matter. So does symbolism. And yes, action can be taken here. Just look no further than British Prime Minister David Cameron‘s actions over the past 24 hours.

Not unlike our president, the prime minister is on holiday in the seaside town of Cornwall (in southwest England). On Monday, Cameron stated that if the situation called for it (given everything else happening in the world pre-Foley news), he would return to London. To that end, Cameron traveled back to Downing Street today after saying it is “increasingly likely” that one of his own citizens beheaded Foley (the person who carried out the murder has a British accent in the video released). Moving forward this week, the prime minister says he will chair meetings on the situation in Iraq and Syria.

Again, even if it’s just a symbolic gesture, even if there’s a political calculation involved, Mr. Cameron absolutely is leading by example.

One of the infamous moments from Bush 43’s presidency was the following from 2002:

“I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. [Pauses] Now, watch this drive.”

Obnoxious. Out of touch. Insensitive. President Bush seemed to understand just how poorly this kind of sight and sound was received by the public in retrospect after a truck bombing in Baghdad killed a major U.N. official and more than a dozen others in August 2003. For the rest of his presidency, he didn’t play another round.

Again, by not playing golf any longer, it didn’t save one additional American life in Iraq or Afghanistan. He shouldn’t receive any awards for quitting then — more of a pat on the back for common sense and basic decency. “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” he told Politico in 2008. “And I think playing golf during a war sends the wrong signal.”

But we’re not at war now, right? Except we are. With the murder of James Foley and the promise of more beheadings of other captured American journalists to come, we’re at war with ISIS regardless of Obama’s desired legacy to be remembered as the president who ended two wars and brought the troops home. We’re rightly bombing ISIS from the sky; we’re arming the Kurds, who know how to carry the fight. It’s not Normandy or even Fallujah, but it’s still war.

So please put down the clubs, Mr. President.

For no other reason, just to show a little respect for James Foley and his family.

[Image via, from 2013]

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