Obama-Boehner golf summit: Who will win?

Probably neither President Obama nor Speaker John Boehner will win, if you’re talking about golf per se. But the golf summit is about political gamesmanship, as well.

(l.-r.) Rob Carr/AP/File, J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
This combination photo shows President Obama and Speaker John Boehner (l.) golfing, the two will have a big golf match this weekend in Washington against each other.

There’s a big golf match this weekend in Washington, if you haven’t heard. No, we don’t mean the US Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. We’re talking about the Golf Summit – the Saturday showdown between President Obama and John Boehner, the GOP speaker of the House.

They’ve both been practicing. Who’s going to win?

Probably neither of them, if you’re talking about golf per se. Vice President Joe Biden and John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, will be filling out the foursome, and Mr. Biden may be the best player of them all. He’s No. 29 in the Golf Digest list of Washington’s Top 150 golfers. Mr. Boehner is next, at No. 43. Mr. Obama lags, at 108.

But the match is about political gamesmanship as well, and that’s a more difficult endeavor to handicap. The only definitive comment we’ll make on that is this: Mitt Romney will be the round’s political loser.

Here’s our reasoning. By agreeing to meet Boehner on the links, Obama appears open to discussion with his partisan opponents at a time when budget negotiations hang in the balance. A little stroll, a few bogeys, and some chat about the debt limit – sounds like an afternoon well spent, doesn’t it? OK, maybe not for you, but for the leader of what used to be called the free world.

Obama gets to appear both presidential and potentially bipartisan. That could be a winner as far as independent voters – who will be crucial in 2012 – are concerned.

Mr. Romney is the Republican front-runner in the presidential race at the moment, so we’ll have him stand for the whole GOP wannabe crowd. Anything that bolsters Obama’s image is going to lessen Romney’s chances of making the Oval Office his own.

Wait a minute: Isn’t Boehner playing here, too? And if that political calculus holds true for Obama, why wouldn’t a golf summit politically bolster the speaker, who happens to be a Republican?

It might, particularly if it is followed by a process of negotiation that produces a budget compromise before America’s finances are pushed to the brink. In the end, voters might see Obama and Boehner as working together for the US good.

But Boehner doing well, politically, does not necessarily equate with a boost in his party’s chances for taking back the White House. Voters are happy with divided government, particularly if they think it is making progress. They’re much more likely to toss out an incumbent if they believe the nation as a whole is a mess.

We’re probably reading too much into an episode of four grown men chasing a white ball around a greensward glistening with fertilizer, but that’s what we do here in D.C. As for Obama, one thing is clear: He better not play too well. Ever since Dwight Eisenhower got skewered by the press for practicing putting while the Soviets launched Sputnik, presidents have been leery of appearing to like golf too much.

President George H.W. Bush played so fast it looked as if he thought the baying hordes of the media were after him. George W. always appeared to prefer activities that involved more sweat. Of recent US chief executives, perhaps only Bill Clinton looked like someone who was happy just to be out of the office in the open air.

Of Mr. Clinton’s skill, golf great Arnold Palmer said this the other day: “Clinton can hit it. But you never know what Zip Code he’s going to hit it into.”

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