Executive Power

Let Obama Golf. No President Can Be Mr. Fix-It (and We Shouldn't Let Him Try).


Obama and baby
White House

"President Obama went back to his vacation on Martha's Vineyard Tuesday evening after spending less than 48 hours in Washington, leaving people puzzled over why he came back in the first place," Justin Sink wrote yesterday at The Hill. Actually, Obama probably dropped into Washington, D.C., in August—not the most pleasant time of year to visit the swamp that neither Virginia nor Maryland wanted—because he was getting his balls busted from every ideological point on the compass over his absence. Why won't he do something about the unrest in Ferguson and ISIL beheading James Foley?

Ummm…What? Exactly?

In his excellent book, The Cult of the Presidency (text here), Gene Healy warns that Americans have come to see the inhabitant of the White House as "Chief Legislator, Manager of Prosperity, Protector of the Peace, World Leader—and more." He penned that book during the Bush administration, but later wrote for Reason that "When it comes to presidential cults, Barack Obama has turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving."

The White House is now reportedly reviewing and throttling even basic requests for federal records. The New York Times' James Risen was almost late to the party when he called the current president "the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation." This administration has expanded on its predecessors' penchant for invoking "national security" as an excuse to hide its missteps and thwart judicial review of official errors, let alone abuses.

"America is dropping like a stone in rankings of freedom. As power accumulates in one person, expect that to continue," says Frank Buckley, author of the recent book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.

Buckley sat for an interview with Reason TV in which he explained the rise of this country's elective monarchy and the dangers that poses.

Both Healy and Buckley point out that this isn't the result of a coup—Americans let it happen.

We push the process along when we insist that the Lord High Protector of the Realm give up a round of golf to reassure the nation about…everything. So he troops home and delivers empty words about terrorist atrocities in foreign lands and long-developing racial tensions and lousy law-enforcement practices in various localities at home. Then he plans some sort of action so that he won't be blamed for inaction, even if that's what he should deliver.

The president, fortunately, doesn't have the unilateral power to salve all our wounds and solve all our problems. But inhabitants of the office are more than willing to accumulate authority if we insist—either because they love the power itself or because they want to be seen "doing" something so we'll leave them the hell alone to play some golf and then fade off onto the lecture circuit after the four- or eight-year nightmare is over.

The presidency is long since "a constitutional monstrosity, too powerful to be trusted and too weak to deliver the miracles we crave," Healy noted in his 2012 article for Reason.

Most problems are beyond the reach of the presidency. They would be beyond its reach even if the office were entrusted with absolute power, though Americans often seem wiilling to test that theory. But most problems have to be resolved by people close to them, and some can't be resolved at all.

That's life.

The United States started with a federal system so that policy could be experimented with locally, and so could policy mistakes. The country also started with a limited government out of recognition that even saints wielding unlimited power will do much more harm than good by trying to perfect an imperfect world.

At the end of the day, the president is one guy. He has a lot of power and responsibility, but we've already given him too much of both in expectation that he'll address more woes than any institution, let alone individual, could fix.

Leave Obama (and his successors) alone to golf. The solutions to most problems lie elsewhere.

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  1. Too bad he couldn’t take a break from his golf game to attend the funeral for that 2 star general killed in action. Or is that also too much to ask of the Exalted One?

    1. Any 2-star general worth his salt would rather His Obamacy stayed away.

    2. Sorry but any person is allowed some free time even when people are fighting wars for you and your country.

  2. In almost any situation, I’d rather have him golfing than making decisions. It’s cheaper and probably better for liberty.

  3. It’s seldom good when Washington remembers there’s a world outside the beltway. I agree. Let Calgon take them all away for as long as possible.

  4. Thank you, Mr. Tuccille, for posting this. I cringe when I think of what the next president will be expected to do. It’s as if he should be there whenever a sparrow falls……………

  5. If playing golf kept him from fucking things up, I would be fine with it. Sadly, his golfing habit doesn’t seem to be interfering with his incompetence habit. So his endless golfing is just a giant fuck you to the tax payers and everyone else suffering from his other great addiction, incompetence. He will never be any less incompetent. But he could at least stop telling us fuck you by golfing every single day no matter what the situation.

    1. This.

      If he were keeping his idiot mouth shut while on vacation, doing no work, then I’d have less of a problem with his multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded vacations. But no, he still manages to get involved just enough to fuck things up and make them worse.

      So fuck that guy…if he wants a vacation on my dime, he can sit his ass at Camp David or his home of record, unless he wants to pay for it all himself.

  6. Can I point out in this might be the one specific situation in which Obama probably could do something positive. He’s our first black president, and going to Ferguson might actually have an impact…

    1. He is not that kind of black President. Obama has about as much in common with the people who live in Ferguson as I do with the Indians who live in the Amazon jungle.

      1. Is that why every third black person I see in Cincinnati is wearing an Obama shirt or has an Obama bumper sticker? I think he could definitely have an impact.

        1. Just because they think he is one of them doesn’t mean he does.

      2. Indians in the Amazon Jungle

      3. This kind of thing always makes me think of OJ. I remember watching some documentary on HBO several years ago and at some point there was some footage of someone asking OJ to do something to help the black community and his response was something like “I’m not black, I’m OJ.”

        1. OJ suddenly became black when he got caught for murdering his wife. Funny that.

    2. Dude, it’s not like he’s going to get Michael Brown and Darren Wilson to sit down over a beer. Which is pretty much his entire playbook.

    3. I’m sure the carefully crafted appearance with a few hand-picked locals flanking him on a platform while he made empty promises to a sycophantic media would solve everything. And the goons who enforce his exclusion zone would really help to de-escalate the police situation.

  7. Out of curiosity, how does his vacation time stack up against other recent presidents?

    1. It is enormous when compared to Clinton or Bush.

      1. I saw a summary recently that put Obama on par with Clinton, and way behind Bush in vacation days taken.

        However, I suspect that the numbers are cooked. Every day that Bush spent in Crawford was counted as vacation, even though he was working while he was there. And I have a sneaking suspicion that if Obama spends an hour doing something Presidenty, it isn’t counted as vacation after all.

        1. If he fund-raises, it’s not vacations.

          1. Also, Hawaii vs Texas ranch.

            1. Hawaii *and* Martha’s Vineyard versus Texas ranch (which was also Bush’s home).

              Not to mention the “diplomatic” trips where Obama and his wife reclassify their spoiled brats as government delegates so they can accompany them for free…even though the only “work” that they and their mom are doing is shopping.

  8. Most problems are beyond the reach of the presidency. They would be beyond its reach even if the office were entrusted with absolute power

    Any president worth having would explain that to the public, rather than trying to appear to do something. Instead, all we seem to get are the types who say they’d be happy to do something if only we’d give them even more power.

    1. That or maybe sit down and talk to Congress about what they can agree on.

  9. The thing is that this is almost entirely an effect of partisanship and the TEAMs. Because it’s become the thing to do to criticize the president when he’s the other TEAM for taking time off or going away from DC, while saying nothing when he’s your TEAM. It’s just cheap easy bullshit point-scoring, yet it’s had this disastrous result.

    Once again, partisanship fucks everything up.

  10. Too many people on Reason’s comment boards attack the president as a man (oftentimes from the perspective of a political partisan opposed to him) without realizing that as an institution the Presidency is becoming way too powerful. It doesn’t matter who inhabits it.

    Many people here are hoping Rand Paul could change things. Why exactly? Because he does and says the “right” things as a freshman member of the Senate? Obama did and said the “right” things, too, when he was a first-term Senator before morphing into just another insider. You don’t have to look too carefully to see that Paul is playing the insider’s “game”, as well (Exhibit A: his endorsement of McConnell and stupid reason for doing so). If he wins the Presidency, he will abuse its power just as badly as Obama (he will make some superficial changes his first year or so) because Congress will still be as stupidly useless.

    1. I disagree. It is obvious that Rand has principles and courage that Obama nor practically any other national politician does not. I could care less that the man who stood on the Senate floor for 13 hours in support of due process made a meaningless endorsement.

      1. I should amend: I hope I’m wrong re Paul. But I’m getting jaded with politics as I head into my mid-30s and I just don’t see how a true libertarian can form an effective political alliance to win the presidency without, well, completely selling out.

        1. Well I have been pretty impressed so far, even though he is walking a fine line and has said and done things for political expediency.

          I guess we’ll see. Both the primary and general election polling is promising, at least. There were plenty of people who said that “they” wouldn’t let him be a U.S. senator either, yet here we are.

          1. I have been impressed by how well he’s walked that line. One of the biggest problems that I had with his dad was that he was so inept at building any sort of coalition in Washington to accomplish anything. Ron Paul could barely get co-sponsors on his bills by the end. Rand Paul seems pretty adept at getting support from both sides of the aisle for what he proposes, and does a decent job at making inroads into areas that most Republicans would never have a hope of reaching (e.g. the black community).

            I noticed a few comments during the Ferguson debacle suggesting that if the Democrats didn’t watch it, the GOP had a real opening to gain votes. Rand Paul is part of the reason people think that. Even the NAACP president gave him some props…*after* he criticized the Civil Rights Act, no less.

    2. I would be deeply surprised if anyone here wasn’t at least a little skeptical that Rand wouldn’t turn into some power-obsessed asshole. Libertarians are pretty good at the trust-no-one shit. The thing that makes Rand interesting is that (at least for the moment) he talks a decent game about limiting power and does that down in the tactical sense (like limiting executive orders and that sort of thing) and might actually be amenable (initially) to implementing the sort of watchdog apparatus that is necessary to create a stronger check.

      But no matter what I’m gonna assume he gets corrupted PDQ. They all do.

      1. Rand is saying and doing what he has to make himself at least begrudgingly acceptable to the establishment, but the guy has chops, he’s not like the usual sorry excuse for a D.C. “libertarian” (e.g. the last two GOP VP candidates). I mean just look at his college writings from 30 years ago: http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrew…..ge#1r8w7x1

    3. I’ve got a healthy skepticism about Rand, but he has bucked the Republican establishment, and at times both parties, on some fairly significant issues. He’s taken some risks. So I have more optimism about him than almost any other politicians.

      Even if Rand had the power to do everything he wanted, his presidency still wouldn’t be a libertarian fantasy land. I have no delusions about that. But damn if it might not be the best opportunity libertarian ideas have had in a while.

  11. Remember between the inauguration of Dubya and 9/11 the major complaint about Dubya was that he was never in the office and he was always out playing golf? At the time, I was like “Hell, yeah. Keep him on the course. There’ll be much less damage done!”

    1. And Bush stopped playing golf fairly shortly after we invaded Afghanistan because he thought it was disrespectful and figured the media would kill him for it.

      1. That didn’t last long though.

        Now watch this drive.

        1. He didn’t play again until he left office.

      2. Bush gave up golf and still got killed by the media for it. Don’t you remember all the snide remarks about how “Bush gives up golf, but not war”. It’s like the old fable about a man, a boy and a donkey. You can’t please everyone, all the time and you shouldn’t try.

        1. It’s like the old fable about a man, a boy and a donkey. You can’t please everyone, all the time and you shouldn’t try.

          I’m not familiar with that one. Sounds kind of kinky.

  12. Why won’t he do something about the unrest in Ferguson and ISIL beheading James Foley?

    Ummm…What? Exactly?

    On Ferguson, he could give a speech (I know, I know) calling for calm, berating the looters, asking the Ferguson PD to be maybe a little more transparent, guys, and saying that he has asked Holder to make DOJ resources available to ensure that the investigations are not only fair and impartial, but seen as fair and impartial.

    On ISIL, announce that ISIL’s threats will be answered with a brief escalation of the bombing campaign, directed at the groups holding the hostage. If they don’t want to be exterminated from the air, they can give him back to us. And if he dies in the bombing, well, better than dying from an amateur beheading.

    1. First: The only substantive step he could take regarding Ferguson would be to push for a federal law requiring that all LEO-induced deaths be investigated by an impartial, non-local third party.

      Second: There are still professional beheadings?

  13. I’m fine with the President going on vacation if he picks up the tab for all travel and security related expenses and he does not collect a salary while off the clock.

    If those conditions are met, let the asshole stay in Martha’s Vineyard for the rest of his term.

    1. No kidding. I swear I thought we had a really, really nice vacation compound all set up for the Prez when he wants to get out of DC for awhile.


      1. Yeah, well, you can’t expect someone of Obama’s stature and public image to limit himself to a rural cabin up in hillbilly country that was built all the way back in the 1930’s now, can.we?

        1. I would hate to vacation here…. Also, what’s with the short-stock, extended clip assault uzi water pistol? I thought those were bad, mkay. Guess the prez didn’t get the memo.


  14. J. D., I don’t want him doing anything about either, but I reserve the right to lambaste him for appearing aloof and unconcerned. His behavior is a confirmation of what many of us.have thought for a long time: he is not executive material, has no concept of what “leadership” is outside of giving speeches, can’t work with others, and has no tolerance for the kind of attention demanded by.his.job. He is now basically phoning it in on the long drift down the home stretch to relaxation, bookbinding with elites, and million-dollar speaking gigs, which honestly seems like his real goal all along, at this point.

    1. And, what Jordan said.above. He wants a vacation at taxpayer expense in this economy, he.can have a staycation in the ol’ Whiskey Hotel marathoning House of Cards. Otherwise, he should pay.out.of.pocket for all the related expenses.

  15. This administration has expanded on its predecessors’ penchant for invoking “national security” as an excuse to hide its missteps and thwart judicial review of official errors, let alone abuses.

    Last night, I read about a 14th century case where a man was convicted “by record” — on the say-so of the king — and his brother pleaded that the court had made a mistake because the king did not have firsthand knowledge of the alleged event.

    And here’s the amazing part. The king and the court admitted that they had indeed been in error. It became an important precedent, and due process was strengthened in response to the incident.

    Imagine that happening today. It couldn’t. The people in power have their totems to wave around and ward off justice.

    1. They’re not even remotely interested in justice anyway, just increasing their own power. Admitting error does not increase power, so they would never do it.

  16. Alt-Text:

    “Your sacrifice pleases Zuul”

    1. If you’ve got a baby, you didn’t build that.

    2. “Damn, I hope this stupid kid doesn’t piss on me.”

  17. He’s not really golfing. He’s actually partnered with OJ to catch the real Foley killers.

  18. I agree with this article’s title insomuch as if Obama is on the golf course, he isn’t implementing new ways to wreck the country. I say let him take the rest of his term off and let the taxpayers pick up the tab for the house rent. Best expenditure of government money we have made in a while.

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