Any time President Obama decries political theater you can be sure his motive is political.
During a Q & A following his statement on the border crisis yesterday, President Obama tried to frame it in terms of the need to rise above mere politics. Asked whether he would take the advice that many on both sides of the aisle had been giving to visit the border, Obama replied, “I’m not interested in photo ops, I’m interested in solving a problem.”
The jokes really write themselves. Obama is not interested in photo ops the way Bill Clinton is not interested in his interns’ underwear. Put aside the fact that the President has a staff photographer with him every day to capture his endless photo ops and that a cadre of professional photographers follow his every move. Put aside his penchant for selfies with sports figures and other world leaders. President Obama has done the classic political photo op on dozens of occasions.
Remember his reaction to superstorm Sandy, right before the last election? Before the storm even arrived President Obama made a visit to FEMA headquarters for a series of photo ops which were highlighted on the White House blog. After the storm, Obama made his visit to New Jersey and toured the damage. He set up a podium in front of some scenic wreckage to give a speech. He hugged residents who had been impacted. He apparently wanted to continue the tour into New York but Mayor Bloomberg politely suggested he had more important things to do.
Obama has never been shy about having his picture taken at the site of a disaster. After the BP oil spill the President walked the beach and picked at tar balls in the sand. There were dozens of cameras on hand to capture the moment. He visited the site of the landslide in Washington earlier this year. Just before that he visited the site of some deadly tornadoes in Arkansas. Obama has visited the aftermath of deadly fires in Colorado, tornadoes in Oklahoma and severe storms in Alabama, always with cameras on hand.
Then there are the more politically calculated efforts like the time the President held a gathering of doctors in the Rose Garden to support passage of Obamacare. The White House staff was ready with spare lab coats for anyone who had forgotten to bring one. There was a beer summit after an ill-advised remark about police acting stupidly.
Not all of his photo ops work out. He probably regrets the one at Solyndra since it soon went bankrupt and took a bunch of federal money with it.
Prior to this month, President Obama has not been averse to visiting the border either. In 2011 he went to the border to make a speech about immigration reform. He even visited the Korean border back in 2012, looking across the demilitarized zone into North Korea with a pair of binoculars.
This is just a sampling of highlights. The fact is that the President has always been quick to the scene of a crisis or ongoing disaster when it can benefit him politically. The fact that he suddenly isn’t interested in photo ops tells us one thing: he doesn’t see any upside to be photographed next to hundreds of kids, some of whom he may even deport.