News Flash: Presidents Work When They Travel

Though I am a Chicagoan who is rooting for Rio — not Chicago — to win the 2016 Olympic bid, I think the criticism of President Obama for flying to Copenhagen to lobby the Olympic Selection Committee is silly. A modern president is working at least 16 hours most days (Reagan being the only exception I’m aware of). Whatever Obama’s strengths and shortcomings might be, loafing is not one of them.

I think this travel criticism of Obama is about as ridiculous as the grief that George W. Bush used to get for going to his ranch in Texas for most of August.

The idea that you can’t travel and work used to be more common than it is today — and it reflected an earlier period when it was often impossible to do so.

I remember one December night in 1972 going to visit my (then future) wife’s maternal grandparents, the Ackermans, who lived on a farm between Freeport, IL (population about 30,000) and Rockford, IL (population about 140,000).

They were both of German farm stock (Grandma Ackerman’s maiden name was also Ackerman, which means “farmer”), and German was the language used in their home in the 1920s.

They worked long and hard on the farm and did little else. In the early 1970s, they had not been to Rockford, which was about 15 miles away, for several decades, and they had not been to Freeport, less than 10 miles away, for at least 5 years. They hated daylight savings time because (as Grandma Ackerman explained to me) it was bad for their cows.

That night, when their TV showed the face of Richard Nixon (whom I disliked), I asked Grandma Ackerman what she thought of him. She answered, “I guess that Nixon guy is OK, but every time I see him, he’s getting into a helicopter or walking off a plane. I wish he’d stay in one place and do a little work.”

In Grandma Ackerman’s world, someone who traveled a lot was neglecting his chores. In the world that Obama inhabits, however, travel is not a serious impediment to performing most of his duties.

And if nonetheless Obama’s critics are correct and it slows down his legislative agenda, that wouldn’t be all bad, would it?


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