WASHINGTON-- On June 14, Sunni rebels threatened Baghdad after seizing much of Iraq -- and President Obama fearlessly played a round at the Sunnylands Golf Course in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
The next day, the militants posted pictures of their mass execution of Shiite members of Iraq's security forces -- and Obama boldly teed off again, at Oracle founder Larry Ellison's Rancho Mirage estate.
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 -- 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.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, writing in the Wall Street Journal with his daughter, Liz, complained: "Terrorists take control of more territory and resources than ever before in history, and he goes golfing." House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers gave a TV interview asking Obama to "please come back from the golf course" and find an Iraq solution.
I was one of the many who had fun with George W. Bush's classic tee shot in 2002: "I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive." But as The Washington Post's Colby Itkowitz noted, Bush hung up his spikes after the Iraq invasion.
CBS News' Mark Knoller reports that Bush played golf only 24 times while in the White House; Obama is up to 177 and now has a round-a-week habit.
The image problem isn't from leisure activity per se but the type of leisure activity. A majority of Americans now believes that Obama doesn't understand their problems, and images of him playing golf -- perceived, fairly or not, as a rich man's game -- confirms this out-of-touch reputation.
This is similar to the problem that dogged Mitt Romney, and now Hillary Clinton. The Post's Philip Rucker this week noted that influential Democrats are concerned that her "rarefied, cloistered lifestyle could jeopardize the Democratic Party's historic edge with the middle class." Images of Obama lining up his putt undermine his attempts to play the populist, which he has done this year on unemployment insurance, the minimum wage and income-inequality.
Obama has replaced basketball with golf as his "go-to sport," in part to avoid injury, Politico reports. At a White House event on sports concussions last month, the president spoke of the therapeutic benefits of his time on the links: "When I need to relax and clear my head, I turn to sports, whether it's a pick-up basketball game ... or more sedate pastimes like golf, or watching 'SportsCenter.'"
Democrats probably wish, for the sake of appearance, that Obama would devote more time to ESPN and less to golf. But if the optics of manicured greens and country clubs worry Democrats, they should consider themselves lucky he didn't take up polo.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.
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