Why Are Conservatives Calling Obama Lazy?

Matthew Cooper
National Journal

Of all the memes about President Obama -- socialist! Kenyan!-- the most bizarre and insidious is the idea that he’s “lazy.” This was a dubious charge leveled at Dwight Eisenhower for his love of golf and George W. Bush for his long stretches at his Texas ranch. The idea that any president is lazy is absurd, given the constant demands of the job. Some may sit longer hours at their desk, but Ike, Dubya and Obama didn’t get reelected by being slackers. It’s a canard. Al Sharpton called it a dog whistle for racism but that seems to underplay it.

Last year after Obama’s horrendous first debate, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu attributed it to his being “absolutely lazy and detached from his job.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell gave the Romney surrogate several chances to take back the line. “Governor, I want to give you a chance to maybe take it back. Did you really mean to call Barack Obama, the president of the United States, lazy?”

“Yes,” Sununu replied. “He didn’t want to prepare for this debate. He’s lazy and disengaged.”

No one doubted that Obama performed poorly. The idea that this was a result of laziness is absurd.

Last week, excerpts of Roger Ailes's biography came out. In the book, authored by Zev Chafets, the Fox News boss called the president lazy.

“Obama’s the one who never worked a day in his life. He never earned a penny that wasn’t public money. How many fundraisers does he attend every week? How often does he play basketball and golf? I wish I had that kind of time. He’s lazy, but the media won’t report that.”

Ailes and conservatives have pointed to Obama’s interview with Barbara Walters in which the president said there was a “certain laziness in me.” But it’s clear from the context that he’s talking about enjoying time on the beach and goes on to say he deplores laziness in others.

Meanwhile, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy suggested presidential laziness was a reason for why the White House hasn't yet released a budget. “I’ll bet you this. I bet you he spends more time filling out his March Madness brackets than he does writing a budget," McCarthy said on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News show Tuesday. To be fair, McCarthy said Obama was avoiding producing a budget for political reasons. He never attributed the delay to some deficiency in the president’s work ethic. Still, even joking that the first African-American president is more concerned with basketball than budgets has an unsettling quality. 

My guess is that this "lazy" meme will have no more traction than the “we built it” mantra of 2012 or the “47 percent” gaffe/confession of Mitt Romney. This was a losing riff against Ike and Bush. Tinged with race, it’s also a loser when it comes to Obama.