On the first hole of what some are calling the Debt Limit Open, both Mr. Obama and Speaker Boehner sank putts for par. Boehner cheerily said, “Oh yeah!” as his shot went in. Then the president patted the speaker on the back as they walked back to their cart, according to the press pool account.
Obama and Boehner were riding together. The other members of the foursome, Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich, shared a cart as well. Is that a sign of developing bipartisanship as the two parties try to negotiate a budget deal?
More likely it’s a sign that all involved can behave civilly in a social situation. Sometimes a golf outing is just four people walking around outdoors talking about their jobs and how irritating the press is.
The outing was meant to be an opportunity for those involved “to have a conversation, to socialize in a way that so rarely happens in Washington,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney prior to Saturday’s event.
In the end it sounds like that's all that happened. After the golfers finished, the White House issued a statement to the effect that the foursome had a great time and enjoyed the golf. The president and the speaker formed a team and beat VP Biden and Governor Kasich. Obama and Boehner won $2 each – is betting legal on federal property?
"After finishing their round, the President, Speaker Boehner, the Vice President and Governor Kasich went to the patio of the clubhouse where they enjoyed a cold drink, some of the US Open coverage, and visited with service members," concluded the press pool report.
So they all had a nice outing – or, as Mark Twain waspishly called golf, "a good walk, spoiled." It wasn't a secret high-level forum for serious talks, apparently.
Yes, Washington reporters went into a kind of obsessive overdrive hinting at the implications of this session for relations between the White House and the GOP-controlled House, and whether Obama and Boehner could set some kinds of goals for a budget deal that would allow a vote on raising the debt limit, etc. That’s what reporters do. At least no media organization called for crowd-sourcing the progress of the foursome shot by shot, as they asked for reader input on the importance of Sarah Palin’s recently released e-mails.
Remember, modern presidencies have developed highly sophisticated routines of press management. For all the breathless reportage produced by the White House press corps, journalists essentially are penned up in a few rooms in the West Wing, waiting for whatever tidbits of news press secretaries deign to dole out.
In that context it’s easy to go overboard jawing about the implications of pretty much anything, because you don’t have much else new to talk about. Right now the media don’t know how close the White House and Congress are to a budget deal, given that little detail about negotiations has leaked out. So chatter about whether Biden is a better golfer than Boehner fills the vacuum.
(The White House knows all this, which may be one reason it asked for the golf game now.)
For the record, the golf match took about four hours and was held at Andrews Air Force Base, a secure location that made the Secret Service breathe more easily. After it ended in early afternoon, CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted, “waiting to hear if the debt limit, deficit reduction, and war powers disputes have all been resolved.”
He was kidding. We think.