Cue the fatuous outrage. The usual suspects are in high dudgeon that President Obama had the temerity, in a time of crisis, to fill out his NCAA tournament brackets. How dare he carve out a few moments of leisure, on ESPN, and how dare he hit the golf links last weekend, when the world is such a mess?On Fox News, Sean Hannity fumes, “You have to wonder what the president is doing…Sadly, none of this is a joke.”On Fox News, Dana Perino counsels, “There’s going to be plenty of time for President Obama to go golfing in his future, whether it’s two years from now or six years from now.”On HotAir, the popular right-wing blog, a headline blares, “Anxious World Looks to White House and Wonders: Who’s Obama Picking for the Final Four?”On Fox Business, Monica Crowley scolds, “The world is aflame! Go to work!”So goes the latest flap over presidential leisure time – and excuse me for yawning. This particular issue has been around since the dawn of the republic (a fact that may well come as a shock to Obama critics who somehow believe that history began in January 2009), and it has been phony for just as long.
Presidents of all political persuasions have always taken time off – they’re human, after all – and they’ve always been whacked by their opponents for doing so. The rhetoric always sounds something like this: “At a time when (insert foreign crisis here) and (insert pressing national problem here), this president prefers to (insert leisure pursuit here) rather than demonstrate leadership when we need it most.”
John Adams – a sainted figure today, with help from HBO – was viciously attacked as an abdicator in 1799 when he stayed away from the nation’s capital, Philadelphia, for seven successive months at the height of America’s undeclared war with France; as one ally told him in a letter, “The public sentiment is very much against your being so much away from the seat of government.”
More recently, Dwight Eisenhower was ridiculed by Democrats for golfing so frequently (800 forays in eight years, according to Golf Digest, which translates to twice a week), at a time when the Soviets were amassing their nuclear arsenal and the civil rights movement was gathering steam. John F. Kennedy was attacked by Republicans for vacationing so much in Hyannis Port in an era marked by Cold War crises in Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, you name it. Gerald Ford was attacked by Democrats for golfing California while inflation was spiking. Ronald Reagan was attacked by Democrats for spending so much time on his California ranch (335 days in eight years), despite crises ranging from double-digit unemployment to Iran-Contra. George H. W. Bush was attacked for vacationing allegedly too long in Kennepunkport while the first Gulf War was being mapped.Bill Clinton was attacked by Republicans for vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard at a time when terrorists were attacking U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; when he promptly ordered cruise missile strikes on al Qaeda targets, he was then attacked for issuing those directives while remaining on vacation. And George W. Bush was attacked by Democrats for spending 490 days at his Texas ranch (or 1.3 years of his presidency) during an era marked by two wars, two recessions, and Katrina.But does it really matter where a president plants his feet? The contemporary White House occupant carries the White House in his head, 24/7, thanks to his ever-present retinue of advisers and communication specialists. Presidents are never off the grid; they are also fully capable of working and playing at virtually the same time. What other choice do they have?Fox News and its Republican friends may frame it as an affront to the nation that Obama took a few minutes this week to be a basketball fan, but, as Politico reports, Obama has also been “immersed in back-to-back meetings all week on the emerging crises” in Libya and Japan. USA Today reviewed Obama’s Wednesday schedule, and reported that he dealt all day with foreign aid, relief, Libya, Mexico, Japan, Bahrain, Haiti, Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. He also took an 11 p.m. EST phone call last night from the Japanese prime minister. He’s also ratcheting up pressure for a U.N. resolution that could clear the way for internationally-sanctioned air strikes in Libya.So it seems only fair that we should cut these guys a little slack when they seek a few fleeting moments of respite. If the golf or the basketball or the ranch is really so cushy, then how come they all age in office so visibly?——-Speaking of presidential history, it’s fascinating how conservatives have become besotted with Franklin D. Roosevelt, on the basis of one letter that he wrote in 1937, voicing his opposition to public union bargaining rights. I wrote about that today, in a newspaper column.