What does Vice President Joe Biden do on a hot summer day in Washington, DC, while a major environmental disaster has left the Gulf of Mexico in ruin?
Host a beach party for journalists at his house, of course! And go ahead and get the Democratic National Committee to pay for it, too. With squirt guns, watermelon, and the Vice President himself, sliding down a waterslide, how could he go wrong? (Nevermind the oil spill! Let’s get some sun!)
The party held last Friday underscores a troubling trend in the Obama administration – an insensitivity to the world around them and a lack of seriousness devoted to the task at hand.
Take President Obama’s decision to play a round of golf when he was unable to attend the funeral service for Polish President Lech Kaczynski. Or his decision to skip-out on Memorial Day services at Arlington National Cemetery, only to return to Washington for a private performance by Paul McCartney. And now Vice President Biden hosts a party with the press, followed on Sunday by a private concert at Ford’s Theater with President Obama and Lionel Richie, Kelly Clarkson and George Lopez.
Despite the coterie of reporters in attendance (CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Ed Henry, The New York Times’ David Sanger, NBC White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie, and The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder), news from the “on-the-record” event was relatively limited. What coverage came out of the party? Video of Vice President Biden sliding feet first down a waterslide, video of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel – a former member of the Israel Defense Force – wielding a Super Soaker at reporter Ambinder, and photos of the gala, all posted on Twitter.
The limited commentary on the event has focused on the (im)propriety of journalists cozying-up to the people they’re charged with covering objectively. And that’s certainly an important, relevant point. But another crucial point is that the lighthearted summerfest occurred in the midst of an oil spill of disastrous proportions.
In one such report, The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder noted of Vice President Biden’s party that “[T]he event was paid for by the Democratic National Committee, not by taxpayers. There was no additional Secret Service presence needed, so I don’t think the afternoon produced any hidden costs to the government.”
Unless, of course, that cost is a Vice President not on the job or an administration that doesn’t take the task of governing seriously.
Perhaps the president sees himself as a cultural leader of America and must embrace that role. Or perhaps he’s unaware of the gravity of the public policy challenges that face the country.