Obama: Slacker President?

Reacting to a Rachel Lewis feature touting Barack Obama as a man-about-town in Washington, attending ball games and plays and dining out, Ann Althouse wonders, “Should the president be working harder?”

Glenn Reynolds quips, “I think he should take as much time off as he wants.”  Heh. Indeed.

Aside from that, though, it’s an absurd criticism.

First, like all modern presidents, Obama puts in a ridiculous number of hours.  Even when he appears to be not working — such as when he goes to his ranch to chop wood Hawaii or Chicago to visit — he’s getting briefed, making decisions, and on call for emergencies.  He’s still the president when he takes his tie off.

Second, leaders need downtime to stay sharp.  If he’s going to Bulls games and drinking beer, that’s a good thing.

Third — and more importantly — the idea that, If only the president stays up late enough and works hard enough, why, everything will be fine is infuriating. The president of the United States is arguably the most important single individual on the planet but he’s not Master of the Universe.  He’s the leader of one branch of a tripartite federal system in system where most of the power is vested in 50 states and thousands of municipalities.   The economy is a global one and mostly out of the control of the 200-odd national governments on the planet.

FILED UNDER: Government, Politics 101, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. All this is true, but one point about your last point:

    The president of the United States is arguably the most important single individual on the planet but he’s not Master of the Universe.

    But there seem to be a lot of people who think, oherwise, no ? And it seems to get reinforced by the increasingly absurd amounts of grandeur that we ascribe to the Office of President.

    Part of the blame for this, I think, can be traced to the increased power that the Executive Branch has taken upon itself since roughly the 1930s. Nobody would’ve thought of Grover Cleveland or Calvin Coolidge as “the most important single individual on the planet,” for example.

    But I think part of it can also be traced to the fact that there is a certain segment of the voting public that looks upon the President the way some nations used look upon their royalty, as someone who dare not be questioned, criticized, or ridiculed. We’ve seen it in both political parties, of course, but the chill-up-the-leg that Obama has received from some quarters is somewhat unprecedented.

    The President of the United States was never meant to be this powerful, and there’s a pretty good argument that he (or she) shouldn’t be.




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  2. James Joyner says:

    The President of the United States was never meant to be this powerful, and there’s a pretty good argument that he (or she) shouldn’t be.

    I don’t disagree. Still, the fact of the matter is that the United States is, by leaps and bounds, the most powerful economic and military power on the planet and the president, as the effective head of government, is therefore more impactful than any other single individual.




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  3. Steve Plunk says:

    I agree the President needs down time but should he be so public about it during the present economic turmoil? While families across the country wonder about mortgage payments and tuition he goes to a basketball game rather than just watch on TV. If words matter actions matter just as well. I would prefer to not see him living the high life while my business struggles because of his policies.




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  4. Steve, I think that’s more of an image question than a practical one (although I acknowledge that given the huge role image plays in politics, the two might well be one and the same).

    From the other side, though, should he be restricted from the same modes of relaxation that other Americans enjoy simply because he’s President? I acknowledge that most Americans don’t go to NBA games every night – but the price of a ticket or four is such that most middle class Americans who really want to can afford to attend a game or two per season if they live within range of it.




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  5. Christopher says:

    Great point, James. I like what Doug said, but you are right. It is what it is.




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  6. [T]he fact of the matter is that the United States is, by leaps and bounds, the most powerful economic and military power on the planet and the president, as the effective head of government, is therefore more impactful than any other single individual.

    Oh, I don’t disagree with that at all. If you haven’t done so, though, I’d recommend checking out Gene Healy’s “The Cult of the Presidency”. He makes a fairly persuasive case that the Presidency is far more powerful than it either needs to or should be, even in today’s world.




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  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Lovely picture, that. Our President quaffting a brew. To bad he does not have a lit cigarette dangling from his lips as well. Funny, George Bush caught hell for just going to his ranch (President always on vacation). Notice none were quick to point out he was still President had had all the tools at his disposal to do his job. I guess hypocracy is suspended during this administration. I understand Stalin use to like to take in a ball game and drink beer also. (not). I would prefer this guy didn’t work at all, not that he is but his efforts do not appear to coinside with any idea of improving the economy or protecting the nation.




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  8. Memory is a funny thing Zelsdorf, but I’m pretty sure if you searched through this very blog you’d find James defending Bush from exactly the same kinds of comments for going to his ranch.




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  9. Michael says:

    While families across the country wonder about mortgage payments and tuition he goes to a basketball game rather than just watch on TV.

    How much money is he putting into the economy by watching it on TV? Now what does it cost for him and his security to go to a public arena? And have you seen the price of beer there? Basketball games and beer are just a part of Obama’s stimulus plan, we all have to do our part.




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  10. Can I add a fourth item?

    If the President is drinking beer at a basketball game, or relaxing at a ranch, or diving into a McDonalds, then he is interacting with the people that he governs. While a modern President cannot be completely accessible, it’s good for him to interact with people other than those he’d run into in the Oval Office. A President desperately needs someone who will boo the Wizards while he cheers them, or yell at him about how idiotic his agenda is, or why doesn’t he just get that mean Simon off of American Idol?

    If you’re constantly surrounded by your yes-men, then a bunker mentality can set in, which is what destroyed Hitler, and to a degree adversely affected Nixon. Every President must be on guard against this.




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  11. Floyd says:

    “”he’s not Master of the Universe””

    Nah!… That’s Axelrod’s job!

    As for the slacker president…. That would be America’s best hope!




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  12. John425 says:

    Joyner is becoming an Obama apologist, of sorts.

    Yes, the President (any President) puts in long arduous hours but Obama seems to use his “downtime” to perpetuate his candidacy as though he were still running for office. Wanna relax, Mr President? Use the frikken WH swimming pool.




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  13. Good for him. Hopefully he will be able to keep some perspective. Take a look at the before and after pictures of Clinton and Bush and ask yourself again what sort of megalomania you have to suffer from to want this job.




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  14. Drew says:

    All fair points, James.

    Woudth the idiot lefties had been as wise the past 8 years and held their fire.




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  15. sam says:

    @John425

    Yes, the President (any President) puts in long arduous hours but Obama seems to use his “downtime” to perpetuate his candidacy as though he were still running for office. Wanna relax, Mr President? Use the frikken WH swimming pool.

    Ah, for Christ’s sake, lighten up.




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