July 15 2014
When President Obama says, as he often does, that he spends “every waking hour” trying to solve the nation’s problems and help the middle class, he doesn’t mean—you know—every waking hour.
A New York Times story this morning indicates that we need not worry that the president is working too hard. The headline: "At Dinner Parties, A Restless Obama Finds Intellectual Escape." The New York Times story dovetails nicely with Juliet Eilperin’s recent Washington Post story on the president’s increasingly breaking away from boring old duties to do more enjoyable things (such as playing pool and greeting a man in a horse mask).
If you look, as I do, at President Obama’s daily schedule every day, you may already have noticed that the all-important Presidential Daily Briefing is generally about ten in the morning, though I have seen it put off until as late as four in the afternoon. (White House Dossier always has President Obama’s schedule.) The reason might be that, as the New York Times reports, the presidential parties go on until most hard-working citizens are a-bed.
I am not a puritan and, though I don’t last way past midnight as often as I did in my salad days, but I do expect the president to be bright eyed and bushy tailed as he confronts the world every morning. Who knows a crisis could erupt?
But wait--here is a remarkable quote from the Washington Post explaining why President Obama didn’t have time to visit the besieged border between the United States and Mexico:
Senior White House officials say they cannot tear up the president’s schedule every time a domestic or international crisis erupts, although they’ve made exceptions before. Last fall, Obama canceled a trip to Asia in the midst of the government shutdown.
But we hire presidents to address international and domestic crises, even if these crises erupt at inconvenient times. We expect from our presidents the character, intellectual agility, industriousness, and commitment to do the job he was elected to do.
The New York Times story this morning begins with the president's trip to Italy. Just disembarking from Air Force One, he asks U.S. Ambassador John R. Phillips and his wife, Linda Douglass, a former Obama aide, to put on an impromptu dinner party for him. And it sounds like it was a humdinger of an evening:
The architect Renzo Piano flew in from Genoa. The particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti arrived from Geneva. John Elkann, the chairman of Fiat and an owner of the Italian soccer club Juventus, came, too, as did his sister, Ginevra, a film director. Over a 2006 Brunello, grilled rib-eye and three pasta dishes — cacio e pepe, all’arrabbiata and Bolognese — at Villa Taverna, the 15th-century manor that serves as the ambassador’s residence, the group talked until close to midnight about “the importance of understanding science, the future of the universe, how sports brings people together, and many other things,” Ms. Douglass said.
In a summer when the president is traveling across the country meeting with ordinary Americans under highly choreographed conditions, the Rome dinner shows another side of Mr. Obama. As one of an increasing number of late-night dinners in his second term, it offers a glimpse into a president who prefers intellectuals to politicians, and into the rarefied company Mr. Obama may keep after he leaves the White House.
Sometimes stretching into the small hours of the morning, the dinners reflect a restless president weary of the obligations of the White House and less concerned about the appearance of partying with the rich and celebrated. Freewheeling, with conversation touching on art, architecture and literature, the gatherings are a world away from the stilted meals Mr. Obama had last year with Senate Republican leaders at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington.
As Mr. Obama once said about the Senate Republican leader from Kentucky: “Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”
Actually, we do expect President Obama to get a drink with Senator McConnell. In the past that is how it worked: the president was elected to govern, and that might include talking to Senator McConnell. President Obama seems to think that he was elected to enjoy freewheeling conversations on art and partying with the rich and famous.
I oppose most of the president’s policies so maybe I should be glad that he is relaxing more. But a president who seems to view himself as more of a prince or celebrity than a president is nevertheless beyond disturbing.