Over the weekend President and First Lady Obama celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary with a dinner at the Blue Duck Tavern in Georgetown. Mark Silva wrote at The Swamp politics blog that he was troubled “that a simple date at a relatively modestly priced Washington restaurant to celebrate a wedding anniversary - the first for the first couple in the White House - could generate as much venom as it has.” He said it “suggests something deeply troubling about the American mood.”
Silva cited the timing, “at a juncture when several American soldiers have fallen at war in Afghanistan,” and the public expense for the outing are what appear to have “raised a lot of ire,” but noted that past White Houses in modern times have not cancelled similar activities during times of war. He then pointed to Jimmy Carter’s recent charges of racism declaring the real problem might be “the inability of a lot of people to accept a black man as president.”
He based this determination on “dozens” of comments to his post with “overt expressions of racism.” I don’t know exactly what that means because the comments were withheld from publication. I don’t doubt that there are stupid people who like to anonymously leave racist comments on blogs. But racism is not the reason for the “American mood” regarding date night or many other issues.
Silva and others who don’t seem to understand the complaints may not be looking at things in full context and defaulting to “racism” as an explanation just ensures they will never “get” what many across the country are feeling.
This weekend’s anniversary outing was not the first presidential “date night” to receive attention. A more high profile date, the jaunt to New York a few months ago for dinner and a show, was promoted by many in the media in “puff” pieces celebrating the love of the first couple. What many in the public were more interested in though, was the cost to taxpayers.
The economy is in shambles and many of those in the real world, the peasants outside the gates of Camelot, are suffering staggering unemployment rates that are only getting worse month by month. For many of those Americans out of work, there is not enough money in the family budget for a date night of even pizza and a movie. They don’t want to see pictures of the President and First Lady all gussied up in their “sleek black suit” and “matching, backless knee-length black dress” out on the town for a fancy dinner. (For many Americans a $24 seared striped bass dinner is considered “fancy” even if it is moderately priced by DC standards.)
When Americans see pictures of their sons and daughters serving (and even dying) in Afghanistan, and when they see an interview with Gen. Stanley McCrystal who says the Commander –in-Chief only talked to him once in 70 days, it is understandable that pictures of the President and First Lady dressed in formal evening attire on the town for date night might not be the image they want of the man responsible for leading their country in war.
I don’t know when my husband and I last had a date night. We have two kids with lots of school and extra-curricular activities and we both have work related responsibilities as well. Even when we can afford to have a nice night out for dinner and a movie, we often have trouble finding the time – and we are not trying to run the car industry and wage war halfway across the world.
At a time when the United States is struggling, soldiers are losing their lives in Afghanistan, and the unemployment rate has reached double digit highs in some areas, it is hard to fault the American people for asking if the President doesn’t have a few things he should be attending to instead. That doesn’t make them racist.
This president has complained on numerous occasions about the toll the job takes on his time and attention. Recently the First Lady talked about what a sacrifice it was for her to jet to Copenhagen to make a pitch to the Olympic Committee. Yet the President and First Lady have already taken several vacations in just over 8 months in office.
It is wonderful that this President and his wife appear to have a very close and loving relationship, and it is even great that they find time to spend alone together, but misplaced priorities are a recurring theme for this White House. I don’t begrudge the First Couple a night out, especially on their anniversary, but it should come as no shock that some Americans don’t want to hear about it.