President Barack Obama, once mocked by his political opponents as “the biggest celebrity in the world,” told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the theater of the presidency is “not something that always comes naturally to me.”
Pressed by Todd about his decision to play golf shortly after a Martha’s Vineyard press conference addressing the beheading of journalist James Foley, Obama said he “should have anticipated the optics” of hitting the links.
“Part of this job is also the theater of it,” he said in the exclusive interview for NBC’s Meet the Press. “Well, it's not something that always comes naturally to me. But it matters. And I'm mindful of that.”
The remark offers a stark contrast to common perceptions of candidate Obama, whose 2008 and 2012 victories were memorialized in historic images of inspired crowds, impeccably produced speeches and viral social media pitches. Critics are sure to harken back to moments -- like Obama’s massive 2008 speech in the heart of Berlin, his breakout speech to the Democratic National Convention a decade ago, and even the star-studded "Yes We Can” music video circulated by his early supporters -- to dispute the notion that his administration stumbles at political theater.
His 2008 opponent, Arizona Republican John McCain, even tried to capitalize on Obama’s rock star treatment, deriding him in an ad as “the biggest celebrity in the world” and comparing him to divas like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
Obama, who was on vacation at the time of Foley’s killing, was roundly criticized for heading to the golf course on the same day that he spoke to Foley’s parents and said he was “heartbroken” over the American journalist’s murder at the hands of ISIS militants.
The president said that it was hard for him to hold back tears while speaking with Foley’s family, blaming the contrasting images partially on the fact that the press follows him everywhere, even while he is “supposed to be on vacation.”
And he defended his overall policies as president, saying “I have no higher priority than keeping the American people safe. I think I've done a very good job during the course of these last-- close to six years doing so.”