President Obama has a long history as a smoker, yet he’s spoken aggressively against the habit on numerous occasions. Presumably, the White House would never seek to appease the powerful tobacco lobby by releasing a photo of the president sneaking a smoke during a break at Camp David.
Diehard smokers would correctly label the gesture a blatant PR ploy. And millions in the campaign to combat smoking would be mortified at the sight of the world’s most powerful man sending the wrong message.
So, you know where we’re headed. Last week the White House released a photo that the New York Post described with the headline, "Skeet for Brains." The paper’s caption: "Bam panders to gun lovers with idiotic pic."
The photo was taken at Camp David last August on the president’s 51st birthday. The White House press office dredged it up in a misguided attempt to prove the president was being truthful when he claimed to regularly engage in skeet shooting at his Maryland retreat.
Adding insult to bad judgment, Obama advisor David Plouffe tweeted, "Attn Skeet Birthers. Make Our Day -- Let the Photoshop conspiracies begin."
And, indeed, they did. Skeet skeptics claimed the president’s gun wasn’t pointed correctly, that his glasses looked wrong, and that the puffs of smoke in the photo were unrealistic.
In the unlikely event the photo is fake, it’s an unforgivable deception. Assuming it’s accurate, the White House has made a grievous miscalculation in its campaign to educate the nation about gun violence and to begin the arduous work of reshaping views about the Second Amendment.
Despite the horror of Newtown and the moving appearance by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords on Capitol Hill, the president’s effort to pass meaningful gun legislation faces long odds.
At the recent senate hearing, one member after another -- from the chairman, Patrick Leahy, to the ranking member, Chuck Grassley -- felt compelled to assert that they are gun owners. One imagines that if they had their own skeet-shooting photos handy, they would have distributed them to the media.
Whether or not they shoot clay pigeons should have no bearing on the debate, nor should it matter if their kids happen to watch violent video games, or if armed guards protect the president’s children when they go to school.
The problem in releasing the Camp David photo is that the NRA and its members understandably find it disingenuous. To many parents in Newtown and across the nation, it is undoubtedly offensive.
President Obama has taken a bold, long overdue stand against the nation’s epidemic gun violence. Considering the stranglehold that the NRA has on Congress, Mr. Obama has little choice but to carry the campaign to the public, which is what brought him to a police facility in Minneapolis Monday.
"We don’t have to agree on everything," he said, "to agree that it’s time to do something."
He made a plea for universal background checks. He urged passage of a bill that would stop the sale of guns by so-called "straw men" -- those who buy guns legally and then sell them to criminals. He called for a ban on military-style weapons and large ammunition clips. He suggested that schools provide more help for youngsters with mental illness.
And that’s the important picture: the president speaking passionately about the pressing need to curb gun violence.
Mr. Obama might enjoy blasting away at clay pigeons, but by releasing the Camp David photo, aides were shooting their boss in the foot.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker reachable at www.CandidCamera.com.