President Obama has been in the Oval Office for five years, as the chief executive representing the United States. Since he represents all 50 states, it’s logical that he would at least have stepped foot in each of them, right? Apparently not.
Obama has largely ignored states with right-leaning constituencies: He hasn't visited red states like Arkansas, Idaho, South Carolina, Utah, or either of the Dakotas. In addition, he’s only once visited seven other Southern and Midwestern states whose electorates are primarily white and rural. That leaves the president with 26% of American states unvisited.
Historically, this statistic may not have been alarming due to sweeping financial, technological, and time constraints. In today’s world, where the president can hop on Air Force One and jet to Africa in half a day, there’s little excuse. With this 4,000-square foot, three story “flying White House,” Obama has the ability to keep all resources at his side while traveling. If taxpayers are funding Air Force One’s almost $200,000 an hour operation, they deserve a little face time from the president.
According to the New York Times Obama aides contest that there’s little point in visiting a state whose political leaders vehemently oppose the president, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Kentucky. McConnell pushed for a one-term Obama presidency last election cycle, and Obama has only visited the state once, in 2011. Obama's aides say that modern technologies of news coverage allow the whole world to follow the president, regardless of his location. This attitude is reflected by Obama’s very concentrated strategy in the 2012 elections: His visits to key swing states are far into the double digits.
Although he has famously emphasized in the past that “there’s not a liberal American and a conservative America ... There’s the United States of America,” his actions have been contradictory. Former Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd, who met with candidate Obama in 2008, criticizes that Obama treats his interactions with adversaries as a transaction rather than a relationship. According to Dowd, however, the president acknowledges his failings in this area and has allegedly worked to improve. While it’s hard to know exactly how Obama interacts with Republican leaders in face-to-face meetings, his interaction with America’s right-leaning constituency indicates that he has not dedicated himself to such improvements on a national scale. Particularly in an increasing partisan context, the president should be doing everything he possibly can to connect with the other side.
It is difficult to condemn Obama for employing what was clearly a winning strategy during the 2012 election cycle, a period in which time and money are preciously limited resources. Having securely won a second term, however, Obama should reorient his strategy towards bridging the partisan divide. For every tea-partier who loudly protests Obama on the Capitol lawn, there’s at least one Republican-voting moderate who respects the president’s leadership and has opinions that deserve to be heard.