President Obama has been taking a steady stream of criticism for failing to cut short his trip to Cuba following the terrorist attacks in Brussels Tuesday, and in particular, over the “optics” of his attendance at a baseball game Tuesday afternoon. The President, for his part, explained that the point of terrorism is to disrupt lives, and he didn’t want to play into that.
This sort of criticism is nothing new, and it put me in mind of something conservative cable host Joe Scarborough said on another occasion such as this, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by a Russian missile. President Obama was on vacation at the time, so Scarborough naturally lit into him, comparing his actions to those of President Ronald Reagan when the Soviet Union shot down a South Korean airliner in 1983:
“Reagan had just started a vacation. He immediately came home, canceled fund-raising, he canceled all campaign events for ten days. He refused to go out there because he knew he had to immediately be briefed, and immediately get his people out to hold press conferences, he had to immediately go forward and condemn the Soviet Union in the strongest terms possible, and get ahead of the crisis. That’s what Reagan did.”
Scarborough would later have to apologize, because, of course, ol’ Dutch actually didn’t cancel his vacation right away. In fact, it wasn’t until after news reports of Reagan riding horseys in the aftermath of the attack that he returned to the White House, in what Reagan administration officials acknowledged was a public relations move. Prior to that, they had long taken a line that should sound familiar to today’s pundits, that there’s nothing the President could do at the White House that couldn’t be done elsewhere via telephone.
But that downed airliner wasn’t the only event that Reagan refused to give up his vacation for. As it turns out, Reagan hadn’t “just started a vacation,” he was already in the last few days of a holiday that began on August 15. What’s more, President Reagan actually did leave his ranch in Rancho Del Cielo for important things like an August 26 fundraiser at the Republican Women’s Leadership Forum in San Diego, California, or another fundraiser that same day for Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Calif.), but not for Hurricane Alicia, which killed 21 people as Reagan fiddled at his ranch.
But President Obama, who isn’t even on vacation — and is actually on a historic diplomatic trip that is, no matter how you feel about its merits, a big effing deal — is under criticism for failing to return home after a terrorist attack. Say what you will about Reagan, there’s no way he’d keep chilling at the ranch under those circumstances.
Except when he did, of course. On August 29, 1983, two U.S. Marines were killed in Lebanon, the first American combat fatalities during the operation that would eventually culminate in the October 23, 1983 bombing of a U.S. barracks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. servicemen. Reagan’s response to these killings, and the wounding of 14 other U.S. Marines, was to stay on vacation:
Mr. Reagan, on vacation in California, and others in the Administration were ”shocked and grieved” at the deaths, a spokesman said. An Administration official suggested that Syria and the Soviet Union bore some responsibility for the fighting.
According to the Reagan Presidential Library, though, the Gipper did find time to speak “by telephone with members of the White House staff to discuss the situation in Lebanon,” after which he called the Marietta, Georgia 1983 Little League World Series champions, so that’s nice. Apparently, it’s fine for Ronald Reagan to make time for baseball after a terrorist attack, for whatever reason.
But President Obama, who wasn’t dicking around on a ranch or raising campaign contributions, gets flak for staying on a historic, first-in-88-years presidential trip to Cuba, and for attending an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuba National Team. Does anyone think, for a second, that had he canceled that appearance, there wouldn’t have been screaming headlines about Obama “abandoning” a US baseball team to do… what, exactly? No one has yet been able to describe what the President should have been flying home to do, other than to make Tom Brokaw feel less unnerved. There must be some hell of a big difference between Obama and Reagan that I’m just not seeing.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.