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State, national columnists

Give the president a break on his vacation

By August 26, 2014

After American journalist James Foley suffered a gruesome decapitation on video last week, President Barack Obama called the event appalling, commiserated with Foley’s parents via phone, and departed for a round of golf with ex-NBA star Alonzo Mourning.

The criticism was immediate. Of course, complaints from the political right are best understood in the context that develops when one tries to imagine any act by Obama that commentators and politicians on the right would praise rather than condemn. It can’t be done.

The president’s critics are eager to embarrass him and see him fail. Consequently everything he does – including whether he takes a vacation, at all, and when and where – is going to be subject to this sort of criticism.

But others looked askance at Obama’s quick exit to the golf course, as well. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd ridiculed the president with a lame, tacky take on the Gettysburg Address entitled “The Golf Address.” Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief at the news site Vox, Twittered that golfing so soon after the Foley video was released was in “bad taste.” Others called it “tone deaf.”

And, frankly, I cringed a bit, as well. Look at what’s going on in the world besides Foley’s execution and the threat to his fellow journalist Steven Sotloff: American airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State; Putin threatening eastern Ukraine; the persistent conflict between Israel and Hamas; the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. We could go on.

Should the president be vacationing, at all, in times like these?

Of course, he should. And the nation would be healthier if we could get over worrying about whether this president – or any president – is goofing off on the job.

Surely, the presidency is the ultimate 24/7 job. I’m reluctant to say that any job is unique, but even doctors find other doctors to take their call, leaving them free to be entirely off duty, to disappear on a sailing voyage or trek through the Australian Outback. But the president cannot turn his duties over to the vice president and vanish for a few days.

Furthermore, President Obama is accompanied in Martha’s Vineyard by a large entourage of advisers and other administrative functionaries. Obama may take his girls out for ice cream and he may play more than a few rounds of golf, but the ongoing responsibilities and stresses of his office are always close at hand.

So let’s agree that the president has a job that’s much more stressful, demanding, and all-consuming than most of us can imagine and that when he is “on vacation” he’s never really off duty.

Couple all of this with the fact that from the beginning presidents have been criticized for being away from the White House. And when it comes to taking time off, this president is solidly in the middle of the pack, having taken more “vacation days” than some presidents, but fewer than many others.

Playing golf immediately after speaking by phone with Foley’s parents may not have been the best optical decision. But complaining about a president taking “time off” is petty and trivial.

And how does this small-minded carping look to the architects of the so-called Islamic State?

It doesn’t take much imagination to believe that some version of a war with this fanatical threat is close to inevitable. People who crucify and decapitate innocent people can’t be allowed to create a burgeoning caliphate, and clearly we’re only one semi-successful terrorist act away from a hot war.

But worrying about whether or how much the president plays golf is a thoroughly misplaced preoccupation that broadcasts irresolution. Our interests are better served by the exhibition of a determined, united front. That’s going to be hard to achieve if we spend too much time and energy complaining about a president who does what presidents have always done, that is, looking for ways to recuperate from the rigors of the most stressful job on earth.

In Obama’s case, this involves playing golf. The rest of us should give him a break.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Readers may send him email at [email protected]

John M. Crisp


Discussion | 20 comments

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  • Teach5thAugust 26, 2014 - 7:01 am

    If it wasn't for the fact that Biden would become president, I'd give Obama a permanent vacation right now. It seems to me he doesn't really like the job, but boy how he loves the perks!

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  • DanielAugust 26, 2014 - 7:14 am

    Actually paying Obama to permanently to only play golf, fill in basketball brackets, vacation, party with the stars and burn Air Force One jet fuel to fund raise is a lot cheaper to us American citizen workers than him showing up to the part of the job that he loathes, really showing up to work at the White House.

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  • rlw895August 26, 2014 - 9:10 am

    At least he's not doing what Clinton did for recreation.

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  • Mr. PracticalAugust 26, 2014 - 3:45 pm

    rlw, good point. Clinton really lowered the bar. I also don't Michelle would be as forgiving.

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  • gmlgAugust 26, 2014 - 8:52 am

    Great article!! President Obama is not the worse/I support our President!! http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/power-players-abc-news/vacationer-in-chief--how-obama-s-r-r-stacks-up-to-other-presidents-214223287.html?soc_src=copy

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  • Rick WoodAugust 26, 2014 - 9:08 am

    It shouldn't be too hard to find people around here to tout the benefits of golf. They aren't ALL Republicans, are they? But I'd really like to here from those who put golf above politics.

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  • JonesAugust 26, 2014 - 9:35 am

    Remember how Bush sat like a dunce after 9/11 clueless? Do you remember how they raked billions through their fake wars? I guess none of that compares to a bro in the white house and his audacity to play a golf. None of us take vacations right? But wait, being he's a bro, he must not forget we don't allow slaves to take days off! If it has been a white republican in office, our tone might have been different.

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  • Larry WAugust 26, 2014 - 2:15 pm

    Yeah jones. You would be up in arms about the price of gas and the misery index if Obama were a Republican. And at least Bush could speak without a Teleprompter telling him what to say.

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  • DanielAugust 26, 2014 - 2:52 pm

    Jones why don't you guys come up with something fresh even if it's a lie like all the other rehashed talking points that you parrot? Are you guys ever going to deal with what's actually happening today instead of hyperventilating of what didn't happen 6 years ago?

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  • patrickAugust 26, 2014 - 3:25 pm

    DANIEL I believe GMLG is really xshmtql

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  • CD BrooksAugust 26, 2014 - 3:31 pm

    Larry W, FOX-ism...what is it with you people and teleprompters? Your hero Reagan used one and so did many other presidents. You don't honestly believe that the president sees the speech for the first time just before standing in front of an audience do you? Silly.

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  • Larry WAugust 26, 2014 - 4:17 pm

    CD. My people will give up the dumb Obama teleprompter lines as soon as your people give up the dumb Bush lines. Fox didn't need to tell me I watched it.

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  • PornacAugust 26, 2014 - 5:19 pm

    Wish I had a teleprompter when I give speeches.

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  • CD BrooksAugust 26, 2014 - 5:55 pm

    Larry W, uh okay you lost me. Not even sure what you're talking about? But that's okay, you somehow have an issue with Obama and Obama only using a teleprompter.

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  • Larry WAugust 26, 2014 - 6:09 pm

    Sorry CD that I lost you. I frequently hear from the left that portray republicans in either one of two ways. They are either evil or stupid. To give examples that I do not agree with, Bush stupid, dan Quayle stupid, Ford stupid, Reagan stupid, Gingrich evil, Cheney evil, Nixon evil. So, for me this gets a little old listening to the same old worn out inaccurate portrayals of people with whom the left disagrees with. So, I would be willing to give up the Obama TelePrompTer problems if you guys give up the fox isms and dumb lines. I have faith in you man that you can come up with some new material. :)

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  • CD BrooksAugust 26, 2014 - 6:19 pm

    Larry W, okay I get it. I am of course guilty as charged for all those examples but don't necessarily believe them to be inaccurate. And I only point out FOX-isms (I coined the phrase) but I do not use them. It will be difficult for me but you are right, I need new material. I will work at it. :)

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  • FDCAugust 26, 2014 - 7:41 pm

    CD and Larry W: Medford Stanton Evans is an American journalist, author and educator who offered the following quote (often attributed incorrectly to Everett Dirkson) “We have two parties here, and only two. One is the evil party, and the other is the stupid party. I’m very proud to be a member of the stupid party. Occasionally, the two parties get together to do something that’s both evil and stupid. That’s called bipartisanship.”

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  • Larry WAugust 26, 2014 - 8:32 pm

    FDC. Thanks for that.

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  • CD BrooksAugust 26, 2014 - 9:25 pm

    FDC, cool thanks!

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  • Rick WoodAugust 26, 2014 - 8:47 pm

    Silly me, I was hoping someone would tell us how golf clears the mind or allow the mind to focus on a problem while you play. There have to be some benefits of getting away from all the distractions. Or are you so focused on that d---ed little white ball that it's just a waste of time?

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