Being president of the U.S., the most powerful man in the world, is often most about perception. The man (or, one day, woman) in the job takes actions large and small every day, but it is the perception of the man that seeps into the everyday lives of working Americans.
That’s why presidential candidates always hit Philadelphia for a cheesesteak during campaigns (Democrats to Pat’s, Republicans to Geno’s). Sure, they’re running billion-dollar operations trying to win the White House, but one picture of them wolfing down a Cheez Whiz-covered glob of meat on a Philly street hits home with millions of voters: “Hey, that guy’s just like me! He loves him a Pat’s [or Geno’s]cheesesteak, too!” (Unless you’re John F. Kerry and order Swiss cheese — then everyone hates you.)
Sometimes, that perception cuts to the core. Like when President George W. Bush stopped playing golf in 2003, at the height of the Iraq War.
“I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal,” he said years later. “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them.”
That’s also why Mr. Bush did two other things, without fanfare or praise. First, he never headed home to his Texas ranch until after Christmas, instead going to Camp David for a few days. That way, the hundreds of people revolving around him at all times — White House staff, Secret Service agents, reporters, photographers, all the others — could spend the holiday with their families in and around Washington, D.C. No one ever reported that — until this column.
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