Obama and Congress Aren't on Vacation

Public service shouldn't mean public servitude.

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave as they arrive in Cape Cod, Mass., to fly via helicopter to begin their family vacation in Martha's Vineyard on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave as they arrive in Cape Cod, Mass., to fly via helicopter to begin their family vacation in Martha's Vineyard on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013.

People are frustrated with Congress, and to a lesser degree (at least in the polls) with President Obama. But can we stop, please, with the story line that they are all on vacation while Rome burns?

It's bad enough when the media does it, since they should know better. They know better because they all long ago booked their flights and rooms for a spell in Martha's Vineyard so they can chase after Obama and the rest of the first family as they try to take a short break from Washington, D.C. Everyone deserves a vacation, and not enough people get one. But that doesn't mean it makes it better for the president to stay in Washington for eight years straight without any respite at all – especially when he has children who should not be punished for their parent's career choice.

There seems to be a particular snideness coming from the right on Obama's vacation, although he has certainly take a great deal less time "off" than President George W. Bush. And yet even that is pretty meaningless for both presidents, since presidents are never really off. Whether they are clearing brush on a ranch or golfing on the Cape, they are still working – getting briefed, having conversations with staff and foreign leaders. There's a reason presidents with nary a grey hair when they are elected have more salt then pepper locks when they leave office.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Members of Congress, too, are back in their districts for five weeks. But they are not on vacation either, despite the finger-wagging from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee about the Hill's "taxpayer-subsidized vacation." Aside from the fact that Democrats, too, are back in their districts, this time is no vacation for lawmakers. They go to Rotary Club meetings, they hold public events and they deal with local matters from often angry and unrealistic constituents. They can't go out to dinner with their spouses – people who might not get to see them much when they're in session – without someone coming up to their table with a complaint about something. The problem isn't that Congress isn't working. It's that it isn't working smartly and getting things done.

Spending less time in the district might do a lot to remedy that – not because they would be in suit and ties and heels, but because of the lawmakers actually spent more time with each other, they might develop more productive working relationships. But lambasting them for taking a "vacation" isn't helpful or even accurate. Public service shouldn't mean public servitude.

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