Thursday, January 20, 2011

Obama's Super Bowl Disconnect

Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, all dolled up for the big game

There's a fine line between prerogative and hubris.

Sometimes, our president doesn't seem to know where it is.

This past summer, President Barak Obama and his family made a spur-of-the-moment visit to Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor, Maine. Not that MDI, as the locals call it, isn't used to famous and important visitors; shucks, half the island's landowners are famous and important themselves. But on a limited-access island with only 2-lane roads and tight, quaint villages, presidential motorcades and security details tend to be more than smothering. They're downright punitive.

I wrote back then about family friends who, along with other craftspeople and artists, lost out when one of the summer season's most lucrative fairs was abruptly closed by the Secret Service as islanders hastily scrambled to accommodate their presidential visitor. Obama seemed either not to care - or not have a clue - as to the wholesale upheaval of ordinary seasonal life his family's whim elicited on an island of unlimited natural beauty... but severely limited economic resources.

It's this same imperious attitude that has come to the fore now he's informed journalists that he wants to attend this year's Super Bowl here in Arlington, Texas. Apparently, while he was supposed to be hosting Chinese president Hu Jintao, Obama announced that, "if the Bears win, I'm going, no doubt."

Um, Yeah, There's Some Doubt

If the Chicago Bears do win a Super Bowl birth this weekend, and the president does barge in at the last minute on Arlington, this will be the first time a sitting president has inflicted himself and his security protocols on the National Football League's premiere event. And there's a reason presidents have stayed away from the big game. Quite simply, presidents present an extraordinary complication for a venue which gets choreographed and executed down to the last detail.

Living here in Arlington as I do, we've seen and heard about all of the traffic engineering, parking logistics, mass transit arrangements, and security precautions which have been fretted over, analyzed, planned for, and - by now - procured for the Super Bowl. In case you weren't aware, it's not just any old game.

For reasons I won't get into here, Arlington is the country's largest city without any mass transit. So coach buses are being brought in to coordinate the transportation of thousands of people between different ancillary venues and the mammoth Cowboys Stadium. Limousines have been ordered from as far away as Miami to accommodate all of the celebrities who will be descending on our area. Law enforcement agencies from the entire region have been coordinating security procedures and emergency contingencies for at least a year. Even the State of Texas has re-built one freeway through town and widened other roads. It's been one big, huge, expensive, exhaustive, unprecedented effort. And up until yesterday, it was humming along smoothly.

Then, either buoyant from hob-nobbing with China's human-rights-abuser-in-chief, or maybe feigning bravado to disguise outright fear at the prospect, Obama pulls a macho armchair quarterback move by cavalierly upsetting the security applecart. Even if it was only hollow sports banter, he displayed imprudent judgment in front of the media and his foreign visitor. After all, people are paid to take even his jokes seriously.

Which, two years into the presidency, should be very real to him by now.

Presidential Mobility Comes with Responsibilities

I once heard someone wonder if Obama realizes he's actually the president of the United States. He's bowed to Arab royalty, had beer with a loopy Harvard professor and the cop he accused of profiling him, and sends his daughters to one of DC's most exclusive private schools while touting the merits of public education.

He drags his security entourage through a charming old New England hamlet during one of the precious few summer weekends Mainers have to profit from tourism. He exhorts Americans to vacation along the Gulf Coast, even though his family could barely muster a full day there themselves.

Now, he assumes the Super Bowl can readily accommodate his whim, after all the planning has begun implementation with the understanding that he wouldn't be attending? It's not like one's mother-in-law giving two hours' notice she's coming for Christmas dinner. Does he not realize the logistics nightmare he'd be foisting upon an army of people who've already worked extremely hard on this annual circus that is the Super Bowl?

Even 43, George W, didn't attend the college graduations of his own daughters out of concern for all of the extra security and coordination his mere presence would obligate the universities and the families of other graduates to endure. And these weren't po-dunk, unsophisticated colleges. One was Yale, his own alma mater, and the other was the University of Texas at Austin, which boasts 50,000 undergrads.

So, taking all of this into account, do I err in wondering what Obama's hubris might suggest about his ability to govern well?

Might it suggest that he's more impulsive than analytical? Perhaps he's not terribly pragmatic. Maybe he's exceptionally self-centered. He certainly seems to take an awful lot of things for granted.

Southern Hospitality - Grinning Despite Chagrin

Of course, if the President does attend, the NFL will simply spin Obama's enthusiasm as proof of the Super Bowl's broad popularity. Security folks in and around Arlington will quietly soldier on, like they always do, even though we taxpayers may have to fork out even more money for additional overtime. And regional planners, lest they compromise Federal transportation funding by squawking too loudly, will put on their happy faces for the media.

True, it won't be the worst thing in the world if Obama shows up here in Arlington for the Super Bowl. It's not as though our city leaders wouldn't appreciate a presidential visit. But we'd all be a lot better off if, like the rest of the world, he just watched this game on TV.

At the White House, which is already equipped to handle presidents.

Then, come back when we're not hosting 100,000 other guests.

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