What did we get after four long years of expertly staged Kabuki-theater-meets-Potemkin-village productions? Sixteen trillion dollars in debt, a pile of dead bodies, troops at increased risk and a gallery of tax-subsidized Kodachrome pictures creating the grand illusion of leadership.
On Monday night, as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast, Team Obama's image consultants released a photo showing POTUS purportedly in charge. The White House sent the picture out to 3.2 million Twitter followers with the message: "Photo: President Obama receives an update on the ongoing response to Hurricane #Sandy in the Situation Room."
On Tuesday morning, the White House sent out another Situation Room photo with Obama -- pen in hand, gilded coffee cup to the side, leaning intently toward a videoconference monitor -- getting a Sandy update.
A White House caption informs us that Obama was flanked by "John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; David Agnew, Director for Intergovernmental Affairs; Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations; and Chief of Staff Jack Lew."
In his halcyon days, the images would have prompted an avalanche of social media swooning. But with a tornado of unanswered questions and swirling lies in Washington surrounding the president's dereliction of duty during the 9/11/12 terrorist attack on our diplomatic staff and security personnel in Libya, informed Twitter users wanted to know only one thing:
What about Benghazi?
"Oh, so NOW the president is in the situation room?" conservative activist and blogger Melissa Clouthier responded. "But he went to bed during Benghazi." Conservative writer and blogger Elizabeth Scalia asked: "How DEAF is the (White House)? They release photo of Obama in Situation Room monitoring storm? Where is (the) pic of him in that room, monitoring BENGHAZI?" When CBS News reporter Mark Knoller shared one of the White House photos on his Twitter feed, North Carolina small-businessman Aaron LePrell asked: "(C)an you request a picture of the Benghazi situation room for us?"
Visual hagiography is a staple of any White House administration. But the selective frequency with which the White House "Message: I'm working here, I'm really working here" photos have been disseminated has become a running joke. White House photographer Pete Souza's Twitter feed and Flickr uploads serve as Agitprop Central for all White House-approved, behind-the-scenes-leadership glamour shots. A sample of photo captions:
--President Barack Obama convenes a conference call at Camp David with Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Chief of Staff Jack Lew to discuss the shooting at a Wisconsin shopping mall, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012.
--President Barack Obama holds a conference call with advisors to discuss the Aurora, Colo., shootings, during the motorcade ride to Palm Beach International Airport in Palm Beach, Fla., July 20, 2012.
--President Barack Obama receives a national security briefing from John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Aug. 19, 2011.
--Reflected in a mirror, President Barack Obama conducts a conference call with his national security staff, including John Brennan (right), Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism, on the situation in Libya in Chilmark, Mass., August 22, 2011.
--President Barack Obama talks on the phone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in Chilmark, Mass., Aug. 23, 2011.
Yep, phoning it in as usual. Not until the coffins of the four Americans murdered in Libya returned to the U.S. does the word "Benghazi" appear in the official White House photostream on Flickr. A search for the tag "Benghazi" yields the following result:
"The White House doesn't have anything tagged with Benghazi."
The omission is telling, but no surprise. For all the daily attempts to manufacture images of competence, strength, decisiveness and leadership, Obama's stage managers can't shake the stubborn perception -- and reality -- of abject fecklessness and manipulation.
Remember: Obama's campaign staff cooked up faux presidential seals complete with eagle's head and the pretentious Latin phrase "Vero Possumus" ("yes, we can"). His stagehands outfitted Obamacare advocates with phony-baloney white lab coats. He publicly joked about turning a visit with U.S. soldiers abroad into "a pretty good photo op." If he could have, he would have imprinted the world-famous May 2011 Situation Room photo taken during the bin Laden raid on "Obama for America" mugs and T-shirts.
And over the past four years, the Poser of the United States has shamelessly exploited the ultimate prop: his majestic tax-subsidized plane. A Los Angeles Times headline gushed approvingly last week: "Obama campaign rolls out its biggest prop: Air Force One." In 2009, White House staff organized a narcissistic flyover stunt of the plane over New York City's Statue of Liberty that terrified unsuspecting residents, who thought it was a terrorist attack. The White House refused to release all but one of the photos taken during the profligate joy ride.
America can't afford another four years of empty gestures and exploitation at the expense of our economic and national security. It's time for the poser-in-chief to exit stage left.