May 14, 2014
Inside the Obama Frat House
By Ed Lasky
Tommy “Dude” Vietor, former National Security Council spokesman, did America a favor when he dismissed a question from Fox News’s Bret Baier about Benghazi with the Lebowskian “Dude, that was like two years ago.” Such juvenility is pervasive among denizens of Obama’s White House, or, as it may be better described, Obama’s Frat House. And it is hurting America.
There were intimations early in Obama’s Presidency that his leadership team was a boys club. As Carrie Budoff Brown wrote in Politico:
The boys club image took hold during the 2008 presidential campaign and the early years of the administration, when Obama’s inner circle brimmed with fist-bumping young guys, sports-obsessed aides and brash leaders like top economic adviser Lawrence Summers. There were influential women, such as confidante Valerie Jarrett and advisers Alyssa Mastromonaco and Melody Barnes, but none was as visible on TV or the White House Flickr feed as David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs or David Plouffe.
Even the New York Times wondered in 2009 “Does the White House feel like a frat house?” Mark Leibovch wrote:
The president, after all, is an unabashed First Guy’s Guy. Since being elected, he has demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of college hoops on ESPN, indulged a craving for weekend golf, expressed a preference for adopting a “big rambunctious dog” over a “girlie dog” and hoisted beer in a peacemaking effort.
He presides over a White House rife with fist-bumping young men who call each other “dude” and testosterone-brimming personalities like Rahm Emanuel, the often-profane chief of staff; Lawrence Summers, the brash economic adviser; and Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, who habitually speaks in sports metaphors.
The image has been reinforced by President Obama’s own behavior over the years.
I have written numerous times about Barack Obama’s lack of a work ethic. Even during his Harvard years, he was known as a slacker who just glided by on the golden path by virtue of...well… being Barack Obama (see The Obamamometer).
The pattern persisted as President. He consistently has skipped daily economic, intelligence and national security meetings; refuses to call cabinet meetings; considers meeting with Republicans -- and most Democrats -- as beneath his dignity (or so it seems); turns in his homework -- (also known as the national budget) consistently late -- another example of his leadership principle in action, leading from behind; and just generally ignored the management of his signature namesake legislation “ObamaCare” until the problems overwhelmed him; and he again-and again-engaged in the juvenile name-calling and taunting that is his wont (as recently as last month, as Eliot Cohen comments, a petulant Obama said Republicans were offering economic policies that amount to a “stinkburger” or “meanwich” -- this juvenilia from a man who was declared the greatest orator of our age; trash talk is so sophomoric, after all).
His work load, such as it is, has been simplified to checking off boxes on multiple choice memos handed to him by his small circle of aides. Who knew that was what he meant when he bragged he would wield his power by virtue of his “pen”? In college, multiple choice exams were easier after all.
But immaturity is rampant in the administration.
Even liberal New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is dismayed by the “Team of Idolizers” Obama has assembled to lead the nation. What qualifications did the boyish Tommy (the name itself is telling) Vietor have to be the NSC spokesman? A few years ago he was driving the press van for then-Senator Obama “From van driver to national Security Council spokesman.” Many of them are callow, coddled kids and, like the president, have not been educated or steeled by the real world. They are also brittle and it shows by the contemptuous ways they respond to scrutiny or criticism. Hey Dude, that was two years ago is not very different from Jay Carney saying Benghazi was a long time ago (two years is a long time when you have not experienced much in life).
The highest paid staffer for years at the White House was the twenty-something speechwriter Jon Favreau-a sign of how important bloviating promises meant to be broken was to Obama’s victory- who was famously pictured groping the breast of a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton while a pal pushed a bottle of beer into Clinton’s mouth. White House meets Animal House.
Vietor and Favreau are apparently drinking buddies: check out the photo below of their beer pong match. How much policy discussion occurred then, dudes?
What qualifications does the thirty-something Ben Rhodes have to be so central to foreign-policy making? Besides being the brother of the president of CBS News that is? A few years ago, after getting a master’s degree in fiction writing from NYU, he was toiling away on a book called “The Oasis of Love,” about a mega-church in Houston, a dog track and a failed romance.” Hey, Dude, who needs military or diplomatic experience to formulate national security policy?
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was a campaign spokeswoman for candidate Barack Obama and is now a laughingstock because of her absurd tweets and selfies, as well has her inability to field questions from the press. Experts were shocked when she landed in this key post, since someone so inexperienced could -- and indeed, has -- reflected badly on America’s image to the world.
Should we be shocked that such amateurs populate the administration (think Biden; think the bumbling Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense; one could go on)? After all, as Bill Clinton said to Ted Kennedy a few years ago, Barack Obama was fit for “getting us coffee,” but certainly not capable of being a President. America did not pick Obama for his competency or record, so why should he be responsible for picking qualified people to help him lead the nation? As a human resources truism puts it, A’s hire A’s -- and B’s hire C’s. Obama has lived and worked in academia for much of his life, cossetted, indulged, with little exposure or experience with the real world-and it shows.
Are these people really the best and the brightest?
We have seen the fruit of this leadership. And so has the rest of the world. Ignore the manifold policy failures that have been covered so well by others -- or at least the non-besotted media. Just focus on the imagery.
Was there any diplomatic step taken by any leader, anywhere as juvenile as the red reset button? The button itself was stolen from a hotel pool or Jacuzzi – I wonder which hapless janitor got blamed for that heist. That might be worthy of a giggly college prank (I hope the statute of limitations is past for my own hijinks) but is it statesmanship, does it show maturity? To add insult to injury, America was mocked for not even getting the translation right. Smart power, indeed.
There are two Poster People that display the juvenile nature of the Obama presidency: Pajama Boy and animated Julia. Really, is this the best an American President can do? Uncle Sam would be shedding a tear for what America has spiraled down to.
Party Time at the Obama Frat House
There may not be time to get policy right but there is plenty of party time with pals.
Russia invades Crimea; Obama babbles a few words and moves onto a Democratic Party fundraiser where he declares, “Well, it’s a Friday, it’s after 5:00. So this is officially happy hour with the Democratic Party.” Why would anyone be surprised an American president can deal so nonchalantly with Russia invading another nation?
After all, years ago he said, “We never need an excuse for a good party”. There it is: the elusive Obama Doctrine -- found at long last.
The Russian invasion –or “uncontested arrival” as the White House depicted it, along with the deaths of civilians-seemed to be as good of an excuse to have a party as any other strategic failure would be.
When American military were putting their lives on the line during the Bin Laden mission, where was Obama? Well, there was the widely-publicized photo of him in the Situation Room, but we later learned from his body man, Reggie Love, that they were playing cards during the mission. For that matter, where was he during the Benghazi attack? The most transparent administration in history won’t say. But speculation is he was resting up to be bright and cheery for his mega-donors the next day in Las Vegas.
George W. Bush gave up golf while president because he thought it an unseemly pastime while Americans were serving overseas. Obama has been addicted to playing golf during his presidency, all on our credit card, at a cost of millions.
Actually, sports has been an obsession of Obama’s for many years, as confidant Valerie Jarrett has revealed (‘Sports, sports and more sports”). The National Review’s Jim Geraghty noted how proud the Obama team is of their athletic ability in “Barack Obama, Gridiron Great,” since the White House official Flickr “feed reveals they play a lot of football in that building.” Photo after photo of the guys tossing the pigskin around looks fun; more enjoyable than dealing with the problems they have created.
He may not have time to do his job but he has found time to watch a lot of television shows -- even when he is not on them. Entourage, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, and The Wire are among his favorites but there are many more. He is truly a pop-culture president. No wonder he has so little time for work. Maybe during re-run season he can catch-up with his work, though we know that he has asked for advance screenings of his favorite shows as a perk of the presidency.
He felt the need to enlighten us with his NCAA bracket picks on national television. And fulfill the dream of every adolescent by playing with NBA superstars; attending numerous games; hanging with sports stars; playing golf with superstars -- on and on. There are private concerts in the East Room where he can be serenaded by music legends such as Paul McCartney and humored by Jerry Seinfeld. He makes time to hang out with rappers but not Republicans.
Jay-Z felt free to roam into the Situation Room where he lounged with his entourage. What do world leaders and royalty make of Al Sharpton, for example, when he attends official state dinners? (Unlike the president, he is a figure that actually may do better without a teleprompter.) When I read of all the parties at the White House, see photos of the holiday decorations and the Wonderland-themed party hosted by Johnny Depp and Tim Burton (pics the White House tried to hide are here) I think of the 1960s movie ‘the Masque of the Red Death,” where the wealthy and powerful party inside a palace as destruction rages outside the walls protecting them.
Obama seems to like his beer (like Favreau and Vietor), since there are numerous photos of his quaffing away. He appreciates beer so much that after he stupidly said Boston police acted stupidly when investigating what they thought might have been a breaking and entering, Obama called a “beer summit.” Dude, what differences can’t be resolved by hoisting a brewski? Certainly more respectable thanh chooming.
And if beer cannot solve problems than there are always the tweets and selfies that elicit parody (see the instant classic #Bring Back Our Balls from the estimable Mark Steyn) not respect. And scorn from our adversaries. Does Michelle Obama’s poutiness affect Putin or the Islamic kidnappers of young girls in Nigeria?
Does anyone care about selfies as much as our selfie-addicted president? Selfies are perfect for narcissists.
Such hashtag activism is nothing but an exercise in self-esteem, as George Will aptly put it -- and there is no shortage of self-esteem in this administration. Policy, as Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, noted “has to be more than hashtags and selfies.” They are juvenile.
Call these types of tweets what they are: tweets from twits.
But what if that is all there is to this team of walking, talking and taunting selfies?
Thanks to Joel Pollak of Breitbart for sparking this column.