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POTUS' Priorities

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
PITTSBURGH -- According to the experts, this ought to be "Obama Country." In the 2008 presidential election, the Obama "Hope and Change" machine scored big in western Pennsylvania, carrying the region with nearly 58 percent of the vote. But this week, there's little evidence of that support here in the Steel City, where more than 70,000 freedom-loving Americans have gathered for the National Rifle Association's 140th annual meeting.

On Wednesday, while NRA officials were making final preparations for the "Three Rivers Celebration of American Values," President Barack Obama made an unanticipated visit to the White House pressroom for a "special announcement." Several police officers -- veterans of the campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan or both -- were in the security operations center here when a duty officer announced that the television networks were interrupting regular programming for live coverage of urgent presidential remarks.

Because this was transpiring on the 206th anniversary of the first U.S. Marine expedition -- to "the shores of Tripoli" -- it occurred to some that the commander in chief might be going to deliver an important message about the current chaos in Libya, the Middle East or Afghanistan. But no, POTUS had something of far greater consequence on his mind -- more crucial than American troops fighting a two-front war, the NATO-generated stalemate in North Africa or a bloodbath in Syria. He wanted to talk about his birth certificate.

Obama's blessedly brief comments, delivered without the aid of a teleprompter, stunned everyone in the room. "You've got to be kidding me!" and "They broke in for (SET ITAL) that (END ITAL)?" were the least onerous expletive-deleted comments from the "audience" in the security center.

Their critique had nothing to do with where Obama was born. Little was said about why he had waited -- "for 2 1/2 years," by his own admission -- to resolve what he described as "this kind of silliness." Instead, the overwhelming sentiment was colossal disappointment that the leader of the Free World had stooped to whine about being "distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers" while our nation confronts monumental problems.

"I'm ashamed to say, I voted for him," one of the policemen said to me as we walked out of the command post. He continued: "My National Guard unit was called up for duty in Iraq while Bush was president. After Obama was elected, I volunteered to go to Afghanistan with a police (mobile training team). Though I didn't agree with George Bush about Iraq, I never doubted he really meant it when he said he cared about all of us over there and prayed for us every day. But all Obama thinks about is himself."

That's a striking, provocative observation about Barack Obama from a self-professed former supporter. Whether the president's sudden appearance in the White House pressroom was really "impromptu," "unplanned" and "spontaneous," as administration officials claim, or part of a strategic public relations plan gone awry is irrelevant. Either way, Wednesday's surreal birth certificate announcement is evidence of extraordinary self-infatuation.

In his remarks, Obama asserted: "I've got better stuff to do. We've got big problems to solve." Yet there is little indication that this president is deeply preoccupied with issues that ought to warrant his full attention.

Less than 12 hours before he "popped in" to remind the press corps about his birthplace, nine Americans were killed in Afghanistan. Scores of rebels and refugees were butchered in Misrata, Libya, by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. In Syria, Bashar Assad's army unleashed a series of vicious assaults on unarmed protesters, making a mockery of Obama's "responsibility to protect civilians" foreign policy. In that same time frame, devastating tornadoes touched down in major American cities -- destroying homes, office buildings and schools while killing hundreds of our countrymen -- and gasoline prices hit a new high. Yet none of this warranted even a brief utterance from the president.

Supporters cite Obama's "dispassionate detachment" and his "coolness in crisis" as attributes to explain his apparent indifference to unforeseen, unexpected and unpleasant events. In 2010, when he all but ignored the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, his inaction was depicted as "taking time to consider all possible options." As events spiraled out of control in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and then Libya, it was suggested that he was "working behind the scenes to build consensus." His failure to speak out promptly about the catastrophic earthquake/tsunami that devastated Japan was explained as "stoic compassion."

Perhaps. But Wednesday's very strange birth certificate appearance suggests a far less charitable explanation for what's been happening in the Obama White House: a lengthy, ongoing session of self-absorbed navel gazing. If that's the case, America's adversaries in Tripoli, Tehran, Damascus, Beijing, Pyongyang and Caracas must have chortled when the president of the United States took time to explain to the world where and when he was born. Meanwhile, here in Pittsburgh, several hundred thousand Americans are convinced POTUS has his priorities all wrong.

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