President Obama sang in public – again. He made fun of the large, and growing, Republican presidential field. He hung out with Girl Scouts camping on the south lawn of the White House.
And, on a more serious note, Mr. Obama got to announce the next step toward fulfilling a long-held goal – normal relations between the United States and Cuba. As of July 20, each country will have an embassy in the other’s capital.
Much has been made of the president’s “best week ever” – now extending into a second week, or, in the eyes of some, an entire month – but an added bonus for Obama is that he actually seems to be having fun.
Nobody ever said being president would be easy, and there are ways in which it must be downright excruciating – the mass shootings, the constant threat of Islamic terrorism, the times when Congress stands in the way of one’s vision of progress. Presidents get visibly grayer during their tenure for a reason.
But 6-1/2 years into his presidency, Obama is on the homestretch, and key elements of his legacy seem secure. The economic recovery is taking root, the Affordable Care Act is intact, and the right to same-sex marriage is the law of the land. Increasingly, the famously cool native of Hawaii is letting himself relax a bit in public.
“Is your name really Davy Crockett?” Obama asked a man at an event Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn.
Yes, it was – just like the 19th-century folk hero who represented Tennessee in Congress and died at the Alamo.
“That’s a cool name. But you don’t have that beaver cap,” said Obama, suddenly a stand-up comedian.
“I’ve got one at the house,” Mr. Crockett replied.
After Crockett asked a question – a serious one, about his inability to get Social Security – and Obama’s serious reply, the president got a mischievous grin on his face and sang a few bars of the theme song from the old “Davy Crockett” TV show.
It was the second time in a week that Obama sang in public. Last Friday, under the most somber of circumstances, he led surprised mourners in singing “Amazing Grace” at the end of his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor who died in a mass shooting last month at a black church in Charleston, S.C.
In that moment, Obama shed some of his caution in publicly embracing his role as the first black president.
Obama’s relaxed public demeanor carried into his press conference Tuesday with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, when he joked about her gift of a yellow and green sweat shirt with “Brazil” on the back.
“I can’t wear that in public because I have to root for the USA,” he quipped, referring to the Olympic Games next summer in Rio de Janeiro. “But at home, at night, it’s very comfortable. So who knows, I might slip it on.”
Obama also joked about how much he loves giving press conferences, and he waxed poetic about the sight last Friday evening of the White House bathed in rainbow light after the US Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide.
“That made it a really good week,” Obama said. “To see people gathered in an evening outside on a beautiful summer night and to feel whole and to feel accepted and to feel that they had a right to love, that was pretty cool.”
But it was Obama’s trip to La Crosse, Wis., Thursday that was the most baldly political of the past few weeks. The state’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, is expected to announce his presidential campaign July 13, and Obama’s decision to stage an event in Wisconsin that was focused on overtime pay seemed aimed right at Governor Walker’s war with labor unions.
Walker greeted Obama with a smile at the La Crosse regional airport – a photo op made in heaven for the political press.
What’s more, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, the favorite of the Democratic left for the party’s presidential nomination, had staged a campaign rally in the state capital, Madison, the night before and had attracted 10,000 people – the largest rally for any candidate yet this cycle.
Obama only alluded to Senator Sanders’s spirited challenge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in his remarks, but he had a lot to say about the Republicans.
"Every single one of them is still obsessed with repealing the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that by every measure it's working," Obama said. “It just seems a little mean to say that you don’t want to provide coverage to 16 million people. And you’ve got nothing to replace it with.”
Obama also had some fun at the expense of the GOP’s 14-candidate-and-counting presidential field.
“We’ve got some healthy competition in the Democratic Party, but I’ve lost count of how many Republicans are running for this job,” he said. “They’ll have enough for an actual ‘Hunger Games.’ That is an interesting bunch.”
It was a campaign-style event, with Obama trotting out some lines clearly aimed at Walker, though not by name.
“We have to protect and not attack a worker’s right to organize,” Obama said.
Obama’s done running for office, but the 2016 elections matter vitally to his legacy. He’ll be out there campaigning as much as Democrats want him to, and it’s a safe bet that he hopes to have some fun – and maybe get in a little singing.