Axelrod: Obama sometimes ‘negligent in the symbolism’ of presidency

President Obama can be “negligent” in attending to the optics required of his office, former senior adviser David Axelrod said in an interview published Thursday.

{mosads}The president has come under frequent criticism for his management style in recent weeks, with Republican critics — and even some Democratic allies — arguing he appears too detached or clinical in the face of major crises.

That perception materialized again most recently during the Ebola scare in Dallas, where two nurses who had treated a Liberian man who had traveled to the United States were infected with the deadly virus.

The White House initially resisted appointing an Ebola czar or implementing a travel ban against West African countries where the outbreak is concentrated. But amid mounting political pressure, the administration capitulated in part. It appointed former Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain to head the response and instituted new airport screening and monitoring programs for those entering the country from affected areas.

Axelrod acknowledged to Bloomberg BusinessWeek that the president is often reluctant to account for the politics of such cases, instead focusing his attention on the nuts and bolts of the response.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a theatrical nature to the presidency that he resists,” Axelrod said. “Sometimes he can be negligent in the symbolism.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest dismissed the criticism as something that the administration had heard before, noting the president had admitted as much in past interviews.

“This is an assessment that the president has acknowledged before in terms of his occasional inattention to some of the optical aspects of his role,” Earnest said.

He also said the president has discussed a “desire to try to be more attentive to those aspects of the job.”

But Earnest said it was ” a bit of a stretch to suggest that there’s any direct political consequence for this either in the upcoming elections or frankly any elections at this point.”

Axelrod says he has “searing memories” of the way the White House handled the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with Obama initially inclined to resist public pressure to impose a moratorium on drilling following the disaster.

The president himself has acknowledged he can occasionally misjudge the optics, including, most recently, his decision to go golfing immediately after his August speech condemning the beheading of American journalist James Foley at the hands of terrorists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“There’s no doubt that after having talked to the families, where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain that they were going through after the statement that I made, that I should’ve anticipated the optics,” he later told “60 Minutes.”

This story was updated at 3:19 p.m.


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