Magazine article The American Conservative

Golfer in Chief

Magazine article The American Conservative

Golfer in Chief

Article excerpt

The best thing about Obama is the time he spends on the links.

"IKE'S NOT A COMMUNIST, he's a golfer." The quip comes from paleoconservative sage Russell Kirk, when asked about John Birch Society chief Robert Welch's charge that President Eisenhower was a Communist agent. Ike wasn't the only Red in Welch's sights. "I personally believe [Secretary of State] Dulles to be a communist agent," he wrote, and CIA chief Allen Dulles "is the most protected and untouchable supporter of Communism, next to Eisenhower himself, in Washington." Further, "The chances are very strong that MiItOn Eisenhower is actually Dwight Eisenhower's superior and boss within the Communist Party."

What chance has Barack Hussein Obama to be judged by more sober standards? Granted, Welch in his heyday was considered a kook, while Obama is viewed as secretly disloyal by meatier segments of the Right. Rush Limbaugh, probably the most influential voice of the conservative movement, recently told listeners that Obama is governing with "the express purpose of overthrowing this country." Rush believes (or at least says) that Obama is not driven by communist doctrine but a Third World desire for payback for America's historical crimes. The president has been on this mission, Rush asserts, "far longer than you think."

Most modern-day conservatives do not disassociate themselves from Limbaugh the way Bill Buckley and Kirk distanced themselves from Welch and the Birchers. The comment boards on big conservative websites are full of Obama-the-totalitarian, Obama-thecloset-Islamist rhetoric. A few conservatives find this rhetoric distasteful and self-defeating, not to mention remote from observable facts. But the best retort to the reckless charges may be the same as Kirk's: No, Obama's not carrying out a long-term plan to overthrow the United States. He's a golfer.

Unpacking Kirk's remark requires some sense of the game and its impact on the personality. Obama has clearly become hooked. It was reported that he had played 32 times prior to the funeral of the Polish prime minister, when, seizing the opportunity provided by the volcano air-travel shutdown, he teed it up. This is a pace of about 24 rounds a year, well short of Eisenhower's hundred. Unlike Ike, Obama doesn't walk around the residence with a pitching wedge in hand or practice eight irons on the White House grounds. But he plays golf with the frequency of a man committed to the game.

By most accounts, Obama is still a mediocre player. Reports have him shooting in the 90s and low hundreds. He has poor technique in greenside bunkers, a sure recipe for fattening a score, but he plays seriously, recording real scores without mulligans.

Obama was a varsity basketball player in high school who still looks athletic on the court, and he has a fluidlooking golf swing. I'm sure he hits plenty of fine shots, the kind that tell him, "If I could only play and practice a bit more, I could get pretty good." Most people who were strong high school athletes can. One of golfs wonders is that a reasonably fit adult can continue to improve throughout his 50s. Last year Tom Watson nearly won the British Open at age 59, beating a field of men half his age. That was exceptional, but in any other sport it would be out of the question.

Let's dispense with platitudes about golf being a great way to relax, to put aside the cares of the office, to bond with friends, to commune with nature. All are true, but the same could be said of fishing or hiking. Those pastimes don't become obsessive. Golf does.

For the avid golfer, few pleasures rival hitting a good shot. …

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