In the fall of 1991, as his polls began sinking and America found itself in a recession, President George H.W. Bush was urged to show his compassion and concern for his fellow Americans. Thus pushed, Bush descended from Camp David to stroll into a local Thurmont, Maryland store to show his support for the economy by buying — socks. A pair of socks.
Alas, as with Jimmy Carter’s unfortunate tangle with a killer rabbit, the Bush socks episode became a metaphor for the Bush presidency. His opponents never ceased to portray this episode as an example of the “elitist” and “country club” conception of trickle-down economics. It was a small thing, but in the context of the day, like Carter’s hapless episode with the rabbit, it became a metaphor for a presidency in trouble.
The Bush and Carter episodes come to mind watching this Obama jaunt to Copenhagen for the Olympics. Image making is a risky business in the White House. The Obama administration put their man out there front and center at what was a distinctly non-presidential task: getting the Olympics for Chicago. And he failed. Spectacularly.
Now casting this as a talking point about meeting General McCrystal to discuss Afghanistan won’t wipe away the image created of a president rendered impotent — this time not by a rabbit or a pair of socks, but by the International Olympic Committee.
Now that’s an Olympic-sized political accomplishment.