I’m with Paul Waldman on this one:
There are a lot of stupid ways people attack presidents from the other party, but there can’t be that many as stupid as the complaint that he takes too many vacations. Since Obama is now on Martha’s Vineyard, despite the fact that there are things going on in the world, the volume of these complaints has grown, like the inevitable rise of the tide. Conservatives are in full on mockery mode (did you know he plays golf!!!), and the press is getting into the act as well. For instance, the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank took on the vacation issue in a piece colorfully titled “Obama Vacations As the World Burns,” explaining that “Even presidents need down time, and Obama can handle his commander-in-chief duties wherever he is. But his decision to proceed with his getaway just 36 hours after announcing the military action in Iraq risks fueling the impression that he is detached as the world burns.” That pretty much sums up the problem with how the press discusses this issue. There’s no substantive reason why it’s a problem, it just “risks fueling the impression” that there’s a problem. But nobody’s holding a gun to any reporter’s head demanding that they write not about substance but about which impressions are being fueled. And what really fuels that impression? Why, articles like that one.
I wasn’t a news cycle blogger back when George W. Bush was in office. And so I’m not real vulnerable to someone coming up with dozens of posts wherein I scolded and mocked W. for the amount of time he spent “clearing brush” down on the ranch in Crawford. But you know what? I’m willing to vicariously take on the sins of the liberal writers of the past, confess this as a bipartisan problem, and propose a bipartisan solution: a moratorium on complaints about presidential vacations.
One of the most universal observations about presidents is how quickly the office ages each occupant. So there’s something a bit sadistic about demands that these people work harder. And it’s not as though the president ever gets to check out in a meaningful way.
Waldman suggests all this frowning about presidential vacations reflects some latent National Puritanism:
[O]n some level Americans have a presumption that vacation is basically sinful, that the moment you leave work you’re indulging your selfishness and shirking your responsibilities. This assumption can be found throughout American society, but it’s particularly acute in Washington, where people believe that that the amount you accomplish is directly correlated with how late you stay at the office. I’ve encountered this in any number of workplaces, and I’m sure you have too. But there’s almost no reason to think it’s true.
He’s right about that. And the ridiculous identification of work hours with human worth is probably at its worst in the culture of the White House itself, at least in most administrations. I did not pursue a clear opportunity to work in the Clinton White House because I had become old enough to find ridiculous the idea of dining at my desk every night, which was considered just part of the gig, for no good reason other than peer pressure and the sure knowledge that 100 other people would sacrifice more for the job.
So let’s stop the pretense that with a tougher work schedule Barack Obama would be able to solve the world’s problems. And as for the hackneyed idea that the president needs to “set an example” by his seriousness, I’d like to see him set an example whereby Americans began to value leisure a bit more as part of what we are all working for, and as an essential contributor to long-term stamina and perspective.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum signs up for the moratorium.