It was as predictable as the day is long, as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Or at least as predictable as the next climate change model warning that if we don’t all stop breathing by 10:32 a.m. tomorrow, the sun will rise in the north and Santa’s workshop will be no more.
With President Barack Obama’s approval numbers in the toilet, the choice was clear: Another presidential “watch me hit these softball questions out of the park” interview on “60 Minutes” was just what the country needed.
By midweek, the performance would be playing on Jumbotrons around the world (maybe even in Ferguson, Missouri), the adoring crowds would return (rather than college students between classes and military personnel who have no choice), and that pesky Islamic State-ISIS-ISIL junior varsity team would be sent back to the showers.
But what the White House failed to predict this time was that after years of Obama feeding his pablum to a complicit press, there was a better than average chance that this interview could backfire.
While the president’s doctrine of “When the news is good, claim all credit. When the news is bad, blame everyone else” had not changed, the mood and patience of the American people most certainly had.
Don’t get me wrong. Steve Kroft was perfectly predictable feeding Obama questions in a form that would have swept the old Soviet Union Pravda awards ceremony.
Obama channeled Ronald Reagan to claim that people are better off today than they were six years ago. But every American who is not paying the 2009 price of $1.89 for a gallon of gas or who is paying the astronomical prices for milk, butter, cheese, beef, pork, poultry and virtually everything else on a grocery store shelf, or who is one of the millions who have completely dropped out of the work force in the worst economic recovery in decades, knows different.
While throwing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the rest of the intelligence community under the bus for “underestimating” the threats growing in Syria for the past two years was completely predictable, the fact that the president and his team could so easily forget “Throw the intelligence community under the bus today, see the leaks pour onto the pages of The New York Times tomorrow” was not.
On the night the interview aired, Eli Lake of The Daily Beast reported that “one former senior Pentagon official who worked closely on the threat posed by Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq was flabbergasted. ‘Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s b-----------,’ the former official said.”
And lo and behold, by Tuesday The New York Times had a front-page story subtitled “Spy Officials Say Fault is White House’s Too,” showing that the president’s claim was at best a stretch of the truth, at worst an outright lie.
But it has not always been this way. Presidential weaseling has not always been so predictable.
Half a century ago, another young president, John F. Kennedy, found himself awash in the Bay of Pigs disaster. It was a failure of such scope and magnitude that it threatened to destroy his presidency. Kennedy could have easily blamed others, but he instead did the unpredictable. He stood before the American people and declared: “I’m the responsible officer of the government.”
If only our current commander in chief could bring himself to be as unpredictable.
Geoff Caldwell writes on national and international affairs. He lives in Joplin. Contact him at email@example.com.