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All Work and No Play

From the Scrapbook

Aug 29, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 46
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Far be it from The Scrapbook to begrudge Barack Obama his summer vacation. The president, like all presidents, has earned the right to a little rest and recreation. And in the midst of Obama’s various missteps, miscalculations, and misery-inducing labors on the nation’s behalf, he no doubt welcomes time away from the Oval Office. Our only quibble is with his choice of venue: Martha’s Vineyard. More about that in a moment.

Of course, few presidents ever mollify their roughest critics, and when they lay down their burdens at taxpayers’ expense, out come the sticks and stones. Criticism of Obama’s time off—the mere fact that he is taking it, never mind where and how—is nothing new. Harry Truman liked to relax at the Naval Air Station at Key West wearing loud Hawaiian shirts; Dwight Eisenhower played rounds of golf on the naval base at Newport; Jimmy Carter went chugging down the Mississippi on the Delta Queen; Richard Nixon strolled along the beach at San Clemente clad in dress shirt and tie. Each was excoriated/advised/lampooned in his turn.

When Woodrow Wilson vacationed at a New Jersey retreat called Shadow Lawn, Theodore Roosevelt delivered a critical address at Cooper Union—“There should be shadows enough at Shadow Lawn .  .  . ”—that played on the name innumerable times. Nor is this phenomenon unique to American politics. For exercise, the Victorian prime minister William Gladstone liked to cut down trees on his estate in Wales, prompting Lord Randolph Churchill (Winston’s father) to quip that “the forest laments in order that Mr. Gladstone may perspire.”

So The Scrapbook has nothing reproachful to say about Barack Obama’s leisure time. Our complaint is about the wearisome fact that, yet again, the president has chosen to retire to Martha’s Vineyard for the duration. We can understand why: Bill Clinton was always happiest unwinding on the Vineyard, and since Clinton remains the sole Democratic president elected to two terms since Franklin D. Roosevelt, Obama must regard Martha’s Vineyard as charmed real estate. Then again, most vacations are the pursuit of a comfort zone, and how comfortable it must be for a besieged Barack Obama to spend his leisure hours among the left-leaning/check-writing denizens of Martha’s Vineyard, lapping up the adoration.

But that’s exactly the problem. In illustrating President Obama’s isolation from what we might call mainstream America—consider, for example, the Canadian-made behemoth of a bus with which he recently toured the Midwest—it would be difficult to think of a more fitting symbol than his choice of a privileged East Coast playground within hailing distance of Chappaquiddick. Say what you will about George W. Bush attacking the underbrush on his ranch: That would not be the chill-out choice of the New York literati, or Wall Street hedge fund managers, or Hollywood moneybags. 

Which raises an obvious question: Where should Obama have spent his vacation? The Scrapbook is partial to historic sites and destinations far from the beaten path. But a president’s work is never really done, and so the case could be made for Obama to have embraced that all-American innovation—the “staycation”—in the comfort of his stately, taxpayer-subsidized residence, starting work on an endless series of repairs to his ramshackle presidency.

Rick Perry and the Alien Invasion

Last week, Rick Perry was roundly mocked by the journalistic establishment for saying, “I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.”

The very next day, a woman showed up with her child at a campaign appearance by Perry, thrust her obviously reticent tyke at the Texas governor, and loudly instructed him to “Ask him why he doesn’t believe in science!”

Fellow Republican Jon Huntsman even took a jab at Perry on Twitter later: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

Well, call The Scrapbook crazy but putting blind faith in the abstract notion of collective scientific “consensus” rather than evaluating individual scientists and their findings on the merits is not only counter to the scientific method but seriously ill-advised. Case in point—the Guardian reports on some of the latest “research” to come out of NASA:

It may not rank as the most compelling reason to curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a pre-emptive alien attack, scientists claim.

Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth’s atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control—and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain.

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