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America survives Obama vacation; chattering pundits are shocked

Too much work kills productivity and focus, even for presidents
While the president vacations, government carries on without micromanaging from the Oval Office

Stunning news: President Obama is back from his vacation and America is safe once again.

Given the shock and awe exhibited by inside-the-Beltway pundits, you would think the president had abandoned his job like a driver leaping from a careening school bus filled with fourth-graders. Islamic extremists were marauding across Iraq while that country’s prime minister was refusing to step aside for his successor. Israeli bombs were pummeling Gaza. Cops were battling protesters in a St. Louis suburb. The Russians were infringing on Ukrainian territory. And there was Obama, putting on the ninth green.

Seemingly worst of all, in the minds of Obama’s critics, was the Hillary hit. In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank listed the various searing hot spots that Obama might be neglecting, but started off with this even more immediate catastrophe: “Hillary Rodham Clinton, his once-loyal secretary of state and his likeliest successor, has gone rogue, criticizing his foreign policy as too timid.”

Horrors! Why did Obama fail to rush back to the White House to deal with that? Perhaps because he knew Hillary was on her way to his neighborhood on Martha’s Vineyard and he could chat with her there (as he did). And, perhaps, the president has a sense of proportion that today’s crisis-driven, politics-obsessed media lack. 

A better sense of proportion is one of those valuable benefits that often come with a holiday. After spending time by the sea or hiking in a forest or driving down a highway far from home, or even after whacking a little white ball toward a series of holes in a perfectly manicured lawn, a person can come away refreshed with a clearer mind and a new take on ever-present problems.

Presidents are no different in this regard, yet Obama was dinged for golfing while the world burned, as if his failure to give constant attention to the various crises made them worse. This overlooks the obvious fact that the presidency and all the arms of government, including the military, keep on functioning without constant micromanaging from the man in the Oval Office.

It also ignores something that is understood by anyone with a cellphone and an email account: You never really leave the office behind these days, thanks to our modern means of communication and constant connection. On too many vacations, work comes along. The president’s work obviously came along with him and, with the powerful array of communications tools at his disposal, he was no more out of touch than he would be if he were helping his girls with their homework upstairs at the White House. 

Arguably, it is a very good thing to have a man who is faced with so many crises and so many tough decisions take a mental break. Chances are, his decisions will improve. A recent Atlantic article about our work-obsessed nation noted that skipping holidays and working long hours not only causes life-shortening stress, it actually hurts productivity and leads to poor focus and disengagement on the job. The magazine cites various studies that show “length of work and quality of work at a certain point become inversely related.” 

Not surprisingly, the worst did not happen while Obama spent a few hours on the beach with his family. The Islamic State terrorists continued to retreat from U.S. airstrikes. Nouri Maliki did give up power in Baghdad. The streets of Ferguson, Mo., quieted down. A long-term truce was reached in Gaza. And Hillary and Barack reached a truce of their own.

Of course, the criticism of Obama’s vacation was mostly about politics anyway. Conservatives leaped on it because attacking Obama is their default position. Mainstream pundits were mainly concerned with symbolism and “tone deafness” and how that might affect the next election.

Apparently, other than among right-wingers who hate him anyway, the American public was not especially bothered by the president’s time away from the office. Many of them were on vacation as well. Many others were stuck at jobs with employers demanding more of their time for no extra pay. Either way, they apparently have a better sense of proportion than the chattering ninnies on cable news and in the blogosphere.

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