Better late? Maybe not

President Obama was late for his big speech on the Middle East in more ways than one.

Not only did he run behind schedule reaching the podium at the State Department, but judging from the grumbles still emanating from places like Egypt, he’s also being seen as unfashionably tardy there, too.

Nearly two years ago, the newly minted commander in chief rode triumphantly into Cairo to seek a “new beginning” in relations with the Muslim world. People cheered, smiled and started waiting. And they’ve kept waiting — the way you used to wait when your parents said you might go to the amusement park “sometime this summer.”

It wasn’t that the White House did nothing. Certainly a few initiatives were launched, and a lot of nice words were said. But as the Democracy Fever Dance Party started shaking the region right down to its oil gushing basements, time and again the question from those leading the uprisings was, “Hey, where is President Obama? Isn’t he supposed to be here?”

The president, however, despite a recent brief flourish of muscle in Libya, seemed content to phone in regrets. He and his proxies said democracy is good, politely applauded what the protestors were up to, and then went back to domestic issues.

In one sense, you can’t blame them. Many American voters, worried sick over unemployment, housing costs, the price of gasoline, and the debt ceiling, thought the president had precious little business tending to the troubles of others until ours are a little more under control. But then, that’s true now as well.

And that, I suspect, is how the president wound up running late. In trying to simultaneously satisfy voters at home, reach out to protestors overseas, and yet not appear too eager to commit money or military forces to an uncertain future, he has awkwardly split the difference — looking like the guy who shows up just as people are getting their coats, and finding their designated drivers, saying “Hey kids! I’m here! Let’s get this party rolling!”

–CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “The Situation Room.”


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