Robert Bennett: Obama has his own 'killer rabbit' moment

By Robert Bennett, For the Deseret News

Published: Mon, Sept. 1, 2014, 12:00 a.m. MDT

 President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at T.F. Green Airport, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 in Newport, RI.

President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at T.F. Green Airport, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 in Newport, RI.

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

President Obama has had a “killer rabbit” moment.

For those too young to recognize the phrase, it comes from the Carter Administration. Jimmy Carter was paddling down a river in a small boat — a strange thing for an incumbent president to do — when a rabbit swam into the stream. He used his oar to deflect it and prevent a collision.

For many, the resulting news clip became a metaphor for Carter’s performance as President. Instead of being able to deal effectively with Iranians who stormed the American Embassy, they said, the best he can do is protect himself against a rabbit, which they derisively labeled “a killer.” An abundance of “killer rabbit” jokes showed up on the late night shows. The phrase became a generic term for a supposedly trivial event that damages a politician’s image because it comes to be seen as confirmation of his inherent flaws.

Obama undoubtedly thought that the event which triggered his “killer rabbit” moment was trivial. After addressing an assembled press conference where he made an appropriately solemn statement of resolve and sympathy concerning the televised beheading of an American journalist, he walked off the podium without taking questions in order to make his tee time on the golf course. He had walked away from press conferences without answering questions before; no big deal.

But it was a big deal. It confirmed what many people, even some Democrats, have been saying about him, to wit: “He has resigned himself to being a lame duck. He has given up any goal for the next two years other than to attack Republicans. He is simply bored with his job.” Stiffing the press to go play golf qualifies as a “killer rabbit” moment because it reinforces these perceptions, on the left as well as the right.

Consider the comments of Maureen Dowd, a woman whose acid tongue is usually reserved for Republicans. She mockingly wrote “The Golf Address,” opening with:

“FORE! Score? And seven trillion rounds ago, our forecaddies brought forth on this continent a new playground . . . dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal when it comes to spending as much time on the links as possible — even when it seems totally inappropriate, like moments after making a solemn statement condemning the grisly murder of a 40-year-old American journalist beheaded by ISIL.”

She concluded with, “We here highly resolve . . . that this nation, under par, shall have a new birth of freedom to play the game that I have become unnaturally obsessed with, and that golf of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. So help me Golf.”

Ouch. Even Carter wasn’t zinged that painfully.

I do not believe that Obama has given up or is bored. I think he is frustrated by what Washington has become and I can understand how much he is attracted to the restorative power that can come from a few hours away from it all. But Carter’s encounter with the rabbit should have taught him that perceptions matter. The more he allows his golfing outings to reinforce the perception that he is not fully engaged, the worse it will be for his presidency and the country.

Gridlock in Congress aside, there is much to be done in international affairs. Under the Constitution, that is a presidential responsibility. If Obama really wants to have his “killer rabbit” moment dismissed as trivial, the best way for him to make that happen is to put a firm hand on the foreign policy tiller in this time of international turmoil.

Robert Bennett, former U.S. senator from Utah, is a part-time teacher, researcher and lecturer at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

1. The Hammer
lehi, utah,
Sept. 1, 2014

The only way I see that this president can salvage our precarious situation is to turn to a higher being for help. Isn't it amazing when Lincoln implored the nation to fast and pray and then gettysburg happened. Isn't it interesting when George Washington humbled himself at valley forge. Or when FDR gave a national prayer imploring Gods help before D-Day. Obama needs to lead the nation again. He needs to humble himself and turn to God. In fact we all do. This means treating our neighbors kindly, not breaking HIS laws, fasting, prayer, holy day observance, etc.

Hopefully humility can come before more people suffer because of pride.

2. GaryO
Virginia Beach, VA,
Sept. 1, 2014

“ . . . perceptions matter . . . “ Well, yes and no.

Obama and millions of other sensible Americans really don’t care much anymore about what “Conservative” leaders prefer to perceive and believe. “Conservative” politicos, mirroring the willful confusion and delusions of their Right Wing supporters, have consistently proven themselves so out of touch with reality, that their perceptions and opinions are, by and large, given no credence at all.

Why should any sensible person care that Bob Bennet thinks Obama golfs too much?

It is interesting to note that this former Senator, who one would think might still bear are certain dignity appropriate to his former office, is criticizing Obama for golfing, while alluding to Jimmy Carter’s mythologized encounter with a swimming rabbit.

It was just a Rabbit, Bob . . . Not a White Buffalo. Maybe you shouldn’t extend such significance to that encounter.

“Perceptions matter?”

. . . In this case? . . . Not really.

3. pragmatistferlife
salt lake city, utah,
Sept. 1, 2014

The connection I see here is two Democratic Presidents, two trivial events, and Republicans pouncing on them and making something out of nothing.

It's the same as the posters here who continue to list Benghazi, IRS, and Fast and Furious as Obama's "scandals".

4. Steve C. Warren
Sept. 1, 2014

Re: "he made an appropriately solemn statement of resolve and sympathy concerning the televised beheading of an American journalist"

Perhaps the president and his advisers simply thought that in these "solemn" circumstances it would be best not to take questions.

Besides, if this were about the president making a tee time, surely they could have started the press conference 15 minutes earlier.

Sorry, Bob. There's smoke here but no fire.

5. FT
salt lake city, UT,
Sept. 1, 2014

What I take away from the Senator's editorial is he has little to write or critize the President of, so he makes something up. The last 2 years of BO's Presidency won't be a lame duck if he just keeps the GOP Congress from hurting itself or the country.