Sunday's rally in Paris was perhaps the largest gathering of protesters in French history. It inspired Muslims to wave signs about their solidarity with Jews. It brought the president of the Palestinian Authority a few paces from the prime minister of Israel, marching in the same cause.
Oh, and it kicked off a splatter-fight between people who asked why no major American representatives were at the march. Some were merely confused; some were outraged. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose francophile tendencies have been liberated since he left elected office, was in India for meetings. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris, also for meetings, but not at the march. The highest-ranking American official on the Paris streets was the ambassador, Jane Hartley, and while this might seem exactly the job an ambassador is there to do, it felt skimpy. The outrage was captured best by CNN's Jake Tapper, who reported from the Paris protests, then filed a column about his “shame” over the lack of American political leaders.
“There was higher-level Obama administration representation on this season's episodes of The Good Wife on CBS,” wrote Tapper. “I find it hard to believe that Speaker of the House John Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had more worthy pursuits on Sunday than standing side-by-side with our French brothers and sisters as they came together in an inspirational way.”
The French did not ask Republican leaders to fly to Paris over the weekend. The White House was emphasizing that American resources were backing up French resources in the hunt for terrorism suspects; anyway, the security requirements to bring American officials onto the streets of Paris would have been prohibitive and complicated an event that was not about Americans.
Pundits knew what to make of that:
Howard Fineman preempted the people who were surely sharpening pitchforks for the march to his house, telling Twitter followers that “I have to say I agree that our president should have been in Paris.” Politico branded l'affaire a “French kiss-off.” By the end of Sunday, as photos of side-by-side world leaders who agreed on nothing else had gone viral, the acceptable pundit position was that the White House blew it. (National Journal's Ron Fournier defended the president, but allowed that the White House had made a “mistake.”) When the secretary of state announced that he'd head to Paris later in the week, conservatives mocked him.
The march no-show story looked ready to work into the Monday news cycle. New angles were being discovered all the time, like how the White House that stiffed Paris had sent representatives to Ferguson for Michael Brown's funeral. (Marlon Marshall, the highest-profile White House official who went to Ferguson, had gone to high school with Brown's mother.) White House press secretary Josh Earnest will probably field questions about why the president stayed in Washington and the vice president stayed in Delaware instead of taking a 6-hour flight to Paris; the White House's off-the-record explanations of logistical nightmares will probably have to come on the record.
Meanwhile, the number of congressmen who went #JeSuisCharlie and captured photographic proof could be counted on one finger of one hand.