Obama’s Golf Game

As seen in Ben Smith’s column in The Politico.

President Obama wrapped up his 10-day Martha’s Vineyard vacation over the weekend, during which he played five rounds of golf.

Many conservative commentators criticized the President for his frequent golf outings, suggesting he should focus more on creating jobs than hitting the links. Are they right? Yes and no – but mostly yes.

First, the case for playing golf. President Obama has one of the most stressful jobs in the world, and since many studies show that people make poor decisions when subjected to long-term stress, it’s important for Mr. Obama to recharge on occasion. It is unquestionably better for the nation to have a president who makes decisions with a clear head rather than a stress-addled mind.

But optics matter.

Just ask former BP CEO Tony Hayward, who lost his job shortly after taking a day off during a massive oil spill to watch the yacht he co-owns compete in a race.

Or President George W. Bush, who was widely criticized for continuing to read My Pet Goat to a group of children for seven minutes after being notified of a domestic terrorist attack.

Or Sarah Palin, who became a national punch line for giving an interview about the joys of Thanksgiving while turkeys were slaughtered behind her.

President Obama is entitled to a relaxing game of golf on occasion, but it’s not smart politics. The presidency is as much a symbolic position as a substantive one, and Mr. Obama’s frequent golf outings feel out-of-synch with the recessionary times. Worse for the White House, they fuel a narrative that the President is out of touch with the struggles of everyday Americans.

President Obama would be wise to continue finding ways to reduce his stress load, whether through a private basketball game at the White House, a jog on a treadmill, or a game of chess. But he should recharge away from the cameras, and he should leave the golf course behind for a while.

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