What Obama’s Golf Game Teaches Us About His Presidency

As the world rages around him President Obama is finding solace in a place where most Americans only find stress: The golf course.

Obama’s summer sojourn began in June, just as ISIS militants were marching through Iraq, capturing weapons and killing civilians, on their way to Baghdad. The president opted for a round at the Sunnylands Golf Course in Rancho Mirage, California.

And it culminated this weekend, when Obama kicked off a two-week vacation at Martha’s Vineyard in a seven-bedroom, 9-bathroom, 8,100 square-foot home with a round of golf, just as the U.S. decided to launch airstrikes against Sunni militants who were marching towards the Kurdish-held city of Erbil.

Obama’s increasing love of golf has drawn ire from many on the political right, but it’s also irked some on the left who feel that it may hurt their chances in November’s election. Here’s the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank expressing liberals’ concern:

These split-screen scenes were reminiscent of the weekend in March when Russia was about to annex Crimea. Obama played golf both Saturday and Sunday at Key Largo, Fla.’s Ocean Reef resort with former NBA star Alonzo Mourning and former NFL player Ahmad Rashad.

It’s enough to make one wish the president would take up a different pastime — like, say, stamp collecting.

Yes, a president needs down time. And, yes, he can run the country whether he’s in a sand trap or the Situation Room. But Obama’s golf habit needlessly hands his critics a gimme. . .

Is golf really so important that Obama is willing to handicap his political standing? Evidently so.

Some political observers monitor the geopolitical backdrop of his rounds. Others dutifully track the number of rounds he has played (186 if you were wondering). But so far, the most interesting analysis comes from Michael Hirsh in POLITICO Magazine who saw Obama’s golf game as a mirror for what has gone wrong during his presidency.

“Obama has managed to turn this most gregarious of games into an intensely private obsession, one he has shared almost entirely with the handful of close friends-many of them old high-school pals from Hawaii-and White House aides he asks into his foursome,” Hirsh writes.

Unlike past presidents who used the game as a venue for political discussions, a way to entertain foreign dignitaries or a relationship-builder with Members of Congress, President Obama remains insular. It’s a style that typifies Obama, not just on the golf course, but in his dealings with Congress, his advisers and his Cabinet.

In the story, Hirsh recalls quotes from people close to Obama who became frustrated with the clubby nature of his few trusted consiglieres at the expense of anyone else with an opinion.

“He thinks dissent is messy,” one long-time ally said.

“Our ruling intelligentsia in economics runs the spectrum from A to A-minus. These guys talk to each other, and they all say the same thing,” Elizabeth Warren said as an adviser to Obama’s Treasury Department.

“He doesn’t have the experience of hearing his read on events directly challenged across the board,” Hirsh reports one long-time ally as saying.

Some critics, including us, have chalked that insularity up to a surfeit of ego. He knows he’s the smartest guy in the room (and he’s generally right) so why listen to the opinion of others. Others, including us again, have attributed it to the president’s seeming dislike for the soft power that emanates from gladhanding and backslapping. And others just think he really likes golf.

Whatever the rationale this has been a presidency marked by missed opportunities. One can’t help but feel that part of the reason why is the inability or unwillingness to connect with Congress…even if it’s over 18 holes.