Friday, November 6, 2009

Obama's "seven minutes"

President Obama is catching some heat for his insensitivity after yesterday's shooting at Fort Hood. While America waited somberly for details of the mass murder, an "inappropriately light" Obama came out in business-as-usual mode, issuing "shout outs" and making unrelated introductory remarks before finally acknowledging the tragedy several minutes into his speech.

This is obviously bad form. Given that there was time to work remarks about the events at Fort Hood into his speech, its difficult to understand why Obama chose to relegate them to an aside. He should have preempted his planned speech, or at the very least lead with comments on the emotional tragedy that was playing out across America. This was a huge blunder in judgment.

These are exceptional events, and I don't expect people, even presidents, to respond "perfectly" when stunned by them. George Bush got beat up on for his now-famous "seven minutes," during which he continued reading to small school children after learning of the initial attack on 9/11. I always felt he was criticized unfairly for this. In retrospect, I think he probably did the best thing, but even if he didn't, so what? It was a fluid situation and, as I said, I don't expect perfection in my president.

But Obama didn't get "caught in the headlights." He had ample time to rework his speech, and the options of postponing or canceling his prepared remarks. Nor is this the first time he's committed this type of unforced error. He demonstrated a similar lapse in judgment when he proclaimed that Cambridge police had acted "stupidly" in arresting Henry Gates, even as he admitted to not knowing the facts.

Given the overall demands of the job, these are trivial fumbles. But they are fumbles nonetheless, and ones that could have been avoided.

Update: Jonah Goldberg:
I always thought Bush's response was fine. It was also very different than Obama's, at least as I understand it. Obama was briefed on the shooting before he went out. He opted to do the schmoozy stuff. Bush was presented with staggering news and kept his cool.
Lars Larson:
[A]s the Nation and the world waited to hear the President’s response to this horrific incident — what light he could shed on who did it and the motive, as well, of course, as an expression on behalf of all Americans of sympathy and solidarity with the victims and their loved ones — the commander in chief’s focus was elsewhere.

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