6 Times Obama Has Tried to Calm America With Stagecraft

President Barack Obama has often used photo ops to try and reassure nervous Americans.

Obama at the White House on Oct, 31, 2013

President Barack Obama was about to board Marine One for a round of last-minute campaigning in Wisconsin to buck-up jittery Democrats, but before escaping Washington he had to address a different kind of emotion: Fear.

Standing on the White House lawn on Tuesday, Obama reminded Americans—once again—that the U.S. remained largely safe from Ebola, a virus, he noted, that has yet to claim a single American life. "The point is that this disease can be contained. It will be defeated. Progress is possible," he assured the nation.  

Over the past six years, Obama has had to take on the role of comforter-in-chief on beach boardwalks, nurse's offices,  and even on golf courses. Here's a walk through some of the best and a look at whether they had impact.


Race Relations

The August 2009 arrest of black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates by white Cambridge, Massachusetts, police Sgt. James Crowley, sparked national outrage over the state of race in America. So, the country's first black president did want anyone in his position would do: He hosted a beer summit. The policeman and professor clinked pint glasses. Obama drank a Bud Light.

 
Five years later, another racial conflict captivated Americans, when a white policeman shot a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The killing incited days of riots and, this time, there were no presidential photo ops -- or beer steins. Obama dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder -- without six-packs -- to the scene instead.

During the Obama administration, the share of blacks with a positive view of relations between the races fell 12 percent (from 76% in 2009 to 64% in 2014) while remaining largely unchanged among whites, according to an August survey by Pew Research Center/USA Today.

Swine Flu

In the fall of 2009, Americans were worried about H1N1, the swine flu virus. Obama declared a national emergency and, after the flu shot was made widely available, got pricked himself at the White House. Aides circulated a photo of the President and a needle-wielding nurse to show Americans the vaccine was safe. All told, about 61 million Americans contracted swine flu, 274,000 were hospitalized, and 12,500 died from the virus. The virus continues to circulate but is now considered a normal human flu.


Oil Spill

The April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and left oil and gas leaking into the ocean for 87 days. Summer vacationers fled from area beaches, fearing contaminated water and food. To prove the area was safe, Obama took his wife and two daughters on a 27-hour mini-vacation to Florida's Gulf Coast, where the first family:

Took a boat ride.

Went swimming.

And ate shrimp.

Despite Obama's efforts, it took hard cash to calm the Gulf State waters. So far, BP has paid $28 billion making amends to residents and covering business losses.  The company could end up with a total bill of at least $43 billion.

Government Clashes

In June 2011, in the midst of intense negotiations to raise the country's debt ceiling, Americans were anxious that the partisanship in Washington could potentially lead to a national default.  Washington's way of calming the concerns? Golf. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner hit the links with Ohio Governor John Kasich, Vice President Joe Biden, and a White House photographer. The president was almost hit by a flying golf ball - a moment that was not captured in the official photostream.

But it takes more than a putter to reach a deal. Eventually the broader stalemate over spending resulted in a two-week government shutdown before a final deal to keep funding the federal government was reached.

Superstorm Sandy

Just weeks before the 2012 elections, Superstorm Sandy hit the eastern seaboard, damaging hundreds of thousands of homes and knocking out power for millions. Several months later, Obama tried to bring beachgoers back to the Jersey Shore by playing a carnival game in Point Pleasant, N.J.

And in a moment of beach bipartisanship, Republican governor Chris Christie won him a stuffed bear.

The storm cost $65 billion in damage in the U.S., making it the second most expensive weather disaster in American history after Hurricane Katrina. A poll released this week found that only one-in-three New Jersey residents said they were satisfied with the recovery effort.

Ebola

Over the past several months, Americans have been very anxious about Ebola reaching their shores. So, on September 15, Obama invited Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted the Ebola virus while doing missionary work, to the White House to show the outbreak was under control. 

Nina Pham, the first person to be infected with Ebola within the United States, got a presidential hug on October 24. So far Ebola has infected just two people within the country. All seven Americans infected with the virus have survived. A fact Obama pointed out -- yet again -- in his Tuesday statement on the White House lawn.

 Richard Rubin contributed to this article.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE