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“Stop Complaining About Obama’s Golfing”: It’s Not About Optics, It’s About Doing Your Job

Of course, Obama is hardly the first president to vacation – President John Adams took an amazing eight months off in one year in office, and President John F. Kennedy went away almost every single weekend of his presidency. And Obama’s not the first president to get criticized for it either. President Ronald Reagan, who was on vacation for more than 300 days of his presidency, took an incredible amount of heat for not coming rushing back to the White House after the death of two Marines in Lebanon, an attack that would lead to the 1984 bombing of the Marine barracks there. But he blew off the criticism and even campaigned for two days before returning to Washington.

We don’t let our son watch the news anymore. Growing up with parents who are big consumers of news, my boy—at the ripe old age of three—already knows something is amiss if Diane Sawyer is taking a night off. If David Muir is at the anchor desk he has been known to ask, “Is Diane sick?” (We haven’t started explaining the more permanent transition going on at ABC just yet because we don’t know how he will take it.)

But between Ferguson, ISIS, Gaza, Ukraine, Ebola and every other tragic news story happening, there are too many questions that newscasts raise now that a three-year old shouldn’t have to wonder about. Too many sad faces on the screen, and it’s too soon to explain why.

Being president of the United States means engaging on all of those issues every day, often multiple times – whether you’re on vacation or you’re not. And regardless of the location, this president – like every occupant of the Oval Office before him – is making decisions based on the welfare of the nation, far ahead of what his vacation schedule is.

Something unspeakable happened to James Foley, and his grieving family lives with the tragedy created by the ruthless monsters who took him from them. I can’t say how I’d react if someone took my son from me in the same way. No one can know who hasn’t gone through such a horrible thing. But I can guess. My guess is that I’d want the entire world to stop. That I’d want a moment of silence that never ended. I would want people to stop laughing and businesses to close. I have no judgment for the impulse of any American who feels any hint of that sadness at Foley’s loss.

But I have little patience, and our country has little need for, the people who play politics with his life. One mindless commentator tweeted that people who share my view support golfing while Americans are being beheaded. The New York Times wrote that the president was “seemingly able to put the savagery out of his mind,” as he went on to continue his vacation with his family and his friends after addressing the incredible tragedy.

I’m not sure why the New York Times thinks it can read minds, but knowing this president, I know one thing with great clarity: The savagery of those who attack Americans is never far from his mind. This notion that he can detach is mostly wrong. For the man who gave the green light to take out Osama bin Laden and is often first to hear the reports of American servicemen and women who die in missions that he ordered, the savagery of this world is not far from the forefront of his mind at every moment of the day.

I don’t remember, but I assume that I was one of the many Democrats who gleefully took shots at President George W. Bush for the time he spent at Crawford—and if so I regret it. Presidents are better for having time out of Washington, even better for time away with their families.

Whether you’re a partisan or a cynical reporter who has been making the same critique about presidential vacations for decades, I assume you probably agree that human beings function better when they get a little time away. I wouldn’t want my surgeon to be some woman who hasn’t had a break in 4 years. I wouldn’t want to share the road with a truck driver who hasn’t had enough sleep. It doesn’t matter what your occupation is; you will do your job better if you recharge your batteries. And even though the president is never really on vacation, giving him at least a little downtime is good for all of us.

In the end, it’s not about the optics. It’s about doing your job. And if the president is doing his – which he is – we should all be able to appreciate the fact that he is taking the opportunity to be a dad, a husband and even a leader of the free world who can clear his head on the golf course.

 

By: Bill Burton, Executive Vice President at Global Strategy Group; Politico, August 25, 2014

 

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Media, Presidential Vacations, Press | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Meanwhile, Back In The Oval Office”: Why It’s So Idiotic To Complain When The President Takes A Vacation

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.

As everybody acknowledges, when the president goes on vacation, it’s not like he’s out of touch. He travels with a significant staff, is in communication with the White House constantly, and of course has close access to the nuclear “football,” should it become necessary to end all life on planet earth at a moment’s notice. And when it comes to giving himself vacations, Obama has been rather parsimonious. George W. Bush is the recent record-holder, and it’s not even close. He spent 879 days away from the White House during his eight years in office, including 16 full months at his “ranch” in Crawford, Texas.

At this point we should acknowledge that liberals used to talk plenty about Bush’s vacations when he was president. And it was ridiculous then too, not because we don’t want the president to be devoted to the job, but because of who was making the complaint. None of the things liberals didn’t like about Bush would have been improved had he spent more time toiling away in the White House. Nor would conservatives be happier with the policy choices Barack Obama makes today if he stayed away from Martha’s Vineyard or didn’t play golf as often.

And that’s the real reason the vacation complaint is so absurd. No one—not the opposition party, and not reporters—actually believes that the quality of a presidency has anything to do with how many hours the president logs in the Oval Office. Yes, it now seems weird that with the most important job in the world, Ronald Reagan worked basically 9 to 5 and didn’t come in on weekends. But was the sheer quantity of hours he worked the cause of his disconnection from the details of governing? No, it was just his style. There has never been a president about whom you can honestly say, “If he had pulled a couple of all-nighters, everything would have been different.”

The problem, I think, is that on 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.

As you may know, Americans take fewer vacation days than anyone else in the developed world, both as a matter of practice and as a matter of law. In pretty much every other advanced country, employers are required to give paid vacation and holidays, in quantities that ensure that their employees have the time to recharge, relax, and have a life. Here’s a graph from the Center for Economic Policy and Research comparing mandated paid vacation and holidays in OECD countries:

Paid Vacation and Holidays

That’s us over on the right, at zero. If you lived in Germany, for instance, a country with a high standard of living and extremely productive workers, you’d have 20 days of paid vacation and 10 paid holidays mandated by law. That’s 6 weeks off per year. Paid.

Of course, most Americans get some paid vacation and paid holidays. But it’s entirely up to the generosity of your boss. Incredibly, many workers don’t use the vacation days they have — as much as half of Americans’ vacation time goes unused. And the people who could use it the most—lower-wage, hourly workers—usually get little or no paid vacation or holidays at all. And most workers who do take vacation end up working while they’re vacating, like the president does.

So the next time you see someone criticize the president for taking a vacation — whether it’s a conservative criticizing this president, or a liberal criticizing the next Republican one — the question you have to ask is, “Do you think that if he were back in the Oval Office he’d be making the right decisions, but because he’s away from Washington he’s making the wrong decisions?” When the answer is no, as it inevitably will be, the logical response is: So what the hell are you complaining about?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 13, 2014

August 14, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Media, Presidential Vacations | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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