September 6, 2003

Gone fishin'

In the comments on a Bill Quick post, I noticed that Howard Veit wrote:

...Did Lincoln go on vacation during the Civil War? Roosevelt take a month off during WWII?
How about Wilson during WWI?

And everybody is still going to vote for this guy?

Someone named Dean answered:
On a purely factual level, why yes, most Presidents did indeed take vacations during the war. You might recall where FDR died.

NO, it was NOT at the White House. It was at the "summer White House," in Hot Springs, GA. ...

...Ronnie took vacations. Ike took vacations. But Jimmeh Cottuh, now HE did NOT take vacations. (Actually, he did, as one rabbit noticed.) But during the Iranian hostage crisis, he was, in effect, a hostage---in the White House...

The idea of criticizing the President for taking vacations is really very silly, whatever the party in power...

For one thing, the job of President is extremely arduous. Almost all Presidents age very noticeably in office. Not resting would be totally foolish. Especially during a war. Also, for most Presidents, the White House is not really "home." They have to live there, but it's not theirs...and there are always people staring and watching. That's got to be wearing. It's not a real home where you can put on your old clothes and putter in the garden.

Also, with modern communications, a President is no more out-of-touch in a place like Crawford, Texas than he is in DC. He still has more information coming to him than he can possibly digest, and can still talk to almost anybody, anywhere.

But most importantly, the whole idea that seems to float around that the President should be some Mastermind responsible for everything that happens is dangerous foolishness. And the Presidents who try to work that way turn out to be the worst ones. One thinks of LBJ micro-managing the Vietnam war, and using his many phones covered with buttons to stab deep into the bureaucracy and harangue mid-level managers. Futile.

(There's a funny story, that LBJ visited the new Nixon White House, and reported incredulously that President Nixon had only one phone with only three buttons. "And," he said, "they all lead to Germans!")

The President can't run everything. He needs to form a strong team, people who can take charge of problems and get things done. And to do that you have to give people lots of responsibility, and not second-guess them. You have to let them experiment; let them make mistakes, and learn from them. (And you have to be loyal to them, and support them until it becomes really obvious that they can't do the job.) A good way to demonstrate that trust and give people room to grow is to take a vacation and stop looking over their shoulders.

And the government can't run everything. Power-hungry people cherish the idea of a Wizard of Oz government controlling everything from behind the curtain...frantically pulling levers and turning wheels, never stopping lest civilization fall apart. But that's nonsense. The big problems and issues usually have enormous momentum, and any adjustments take effect very slowly, if at all.

Right now Bush is whipping up some froth (here, here or here; or better yet, just take my word for it) to show he is on top of the economy. But it's purely for show, and because it's expected. He has to do that kind of stuff. But he made his economic moves months and years ago, and we hope they are the right ones, but it's really up to marketplace now. Might as well take a vacation.

Same with the war, really. I hope the President is putting most of his energy into long-term planning and strategy, and to maintaining the political strength that will prevent the leeches from sucking the blood out of our efforts. Think, dream, scheme, Mr President. Stay rested and fresh. Focus on the example of Jimmy Carter, and always do the opposite.

Posted by John Weidner at September 6, 2003 9:10 PM
Weblog by John Weidner