By Jessica McBride Special to Published Jan 13, 2015 at 4:15 PM

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President Obama should have gone to Paris.

It’s not like he had something better to do while the world’s leaders and more than a million people came together for a massive rally in support of free speech and against terrorism this weekend.

The supposed great global healer, the guy who won the Nobel Peace Prize because he talked a lot about peace, and who was supposed to be the biggest celebrity in the world, wasn’t there. Obama seemed more engaged and enraged about a local cop’s use of lawful self-defense (according to a grand jury) in Ferguson, than this.

It wasn’t like he had anything better to do. The media reported that Obama was ensconced in the White House the day that Paris marched. Watching football. (Remember when he played golf right after James Foley died? The president is simply not getting the symbolism right). And, yes, I get it – Eric Holder was attending security meetings in Paris, the president signed the condolence book at the French embassy, and he’s said publicly that he stands with France.

But Holder couldn’t be bothered to make it to the march, the president was watching football that day (bears repeating), and Biden was in Delaware. Neither Obama nor Biden had anything else planned on their schedules. (Kerry was in India. Not sure why being in India was more important than being in Paris.)

It’s just wrong. The symbolism matters here. A lot.

The administration told the media that they were worried about the security needed to protect the president or vice president in Paris. Really? They found a way to protect the prime minister of Israel, who’s got to be a huge target. And about 40 other world leaders. Paris was probably one of the safest places to be in the world that day, considering all of the security that must have been required. It’s not Baghdad.

The other excuse the administration gave was that they didn’t want the U.S. to take attention away from France at the rally. That makes it sound like Obama is some celebrity who didn’t want to go to his high school friend’s wedding because everyone would be looking at him instead of the bride.

There was a similar rally in Washington, by the way, that no one from the White House attended either. At that rally, one of the marchers held up a sign saying, "Lafayette (and Charlie), we are here!"

That rallying cry is a reminder of the special relationship we share with France when it comes to the historic fight for freedom.

"Lafayette, we are here!," generally attributed to U.S. General John J. Pershing, was made to underscore the point that American troops had arrived to help France in World War I because we owed France for helping us in the American Revolution.

However, according to a history of the phrase published by the non-profit organization American Diplomacy, the person who really said the quote was Pershing’s orator, Colonel C.E. Stanton, who said – at the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette no less: "What we have of blood and treasure are yours. In the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying the war to a successful conclusion...Lafayette, we are here!"

Now imagine if President Obama had gone to Paris this weekend and repeated that phrase or something close to it (and, yes, we are at war here too – the values of Democracy are at war with Islamic radical terrorists, not with Islam in general, and have been for some time).

Lafayette, of course, assisted our cause in the American Revolution. Ever been to Paris? I have, several times, and there’s a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty there (because, don’t forget, France gave us the Statue of Liberty). And that doesn’t even get to our shared fight for human values in World War II. When I went to Paris a few years ago, I was able to watch a ceremony honoring French war dead at the Arc de Triomphe. It was incredibly moving.

Thus, the White House misses the point entirely. I want the U.S. to seize the attention on this issue because I want Obama to exert his muscle, rhetorically, symbolically, and otherwise, as the leader of the world’s most powerful superpower. If ever the world needed his talent for soaring rhetoric, it’s now. If ever the Democratic world might be united to fight our common enemies (such as ISIS), it’s now. This wasn’t just an attack against a few cartoonists. It was an attack on common ideals, and it’s part of a pattern.

But I don’t think, really, that Obama believes in the U.S. asserting its power on the world stage. Fundamentally. When you look at everything he’s done and stands for, that’s clear. He’s uncomfortable with exertions of American power.

This has ramifications. His premature withdrawal of troops from Iraq opened up a vacuum there. We abandoned the Iraqi people, to whom we promised freedom, to something (ISIS) worse than the man we ousted. We’ve lobbed a little air power their way as they’ve taken over swaths of Iraq with virtual impunity and terrorized gays, Christians, women, and basically anyone who doesn’t ascribe to their radical beliefs. It’s morally disgraceful that we have abandoned the Iraqi people this way, when we promised them freedom, and after what we did to their country.

Obama did send the U.S. ambassador to the Paris march, but no one knows who she is, so it doesn’t hold the same weight. That’s barely trying. The head of Israel was there. Of the Palestinian Authority. Britain. Germany. Jordan. Ukraine. (Even that Danish leader he took a selfie with at Mandela’s funeral was there). And so on.

Weirdly, when Obama was a candidate, he was a bigger presence on the world stage, appearing in Berlin as if he was JFK. Remember that? It’s strange that he’s less present, and less globally engaged, as the Leader of the Free World, than he was as a candidate to be the Leader of the Free World.

This is France’s 9/11. We are asking nations like France to help us clean up the mess our premature withdrawal from Iraq (and earlier invasion) left there. The leaders and people of France are rallying in support of values that we share and that are also under attack here (and don’t say they aren’t when American journalists are being beheaded on TV and 3,000 innocent souls lost their lives because they went to the office one day in September).

Sorry, Lafayette, that we weren’t there.

Jessica McBride Special to

Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.

She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.

Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.

Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.