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President Obama Takes Refuge from Presidency on the Campaign Trail

10:50 PM, Mar 18, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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I never bought the argument of the Left, indulged in frequently during the Bush years, that if he was in Crawford, he couldn't possibly be doing his job. If he was exercising frequently, he couldn't possibly be doing his job. Most of them believed he couldn't possibly be doing his job, no matter where he was; Camp David, Crawford, and his bike rides were just excuses to make a point they'd make no matter what.

So, I'm careful about implying that the president must not have a life outside of his job in order to do his job. Barack Obama has two beautiful daughters, the actual weight of the world on his shoulders, and any human's need to chill every now and then. I do not begrudge him some time at the gym or some Super Bowl fun every now and then.

But he's just short of two months into his presidency-a job he asked for somewhat enthusiastically- during an economic downturn he himself compares to the Great Depression, and his requirement for respite is disconcertingly high.

On February 3, the day Tom Daschle had to withdraw his nomination as HHS head, Obama left the White House to read to students at a local charter school. The look of the scene, as even Maureen Dowd noted, echoed the actions of President Bush, much maligned by the Left for reading "The Pet Goat" to students for several minutes after getting word of the 9/11 attacks. The "My Pet Goat" moment became a symbol for Bush's adversaries of his alleged wilting under pressure, though the administration maintained it held off on an official statement until facts were gathered, and to avoid panic among students.

The Obamas, however, were explicit that escaping the relatively minor crisis of Daschle's botched nomination was exactly what they'd intended to do:

"We were just tired of being in the White House," the president candidly told the gleeful second-graders at Capital City Public Charter School.

"We got out! They let us out!" Mrs. Obama said as the kids and their teachers laughed.

The President also took a week-long trip to Hawaii in December and a three-day Valentine's Day trip to Chicago, but those are reasonable. What is worrisome is the President's favorite retreat is a place that no longer exists- the campaign trail.

When public opinion began to waver on his giant stimulus bill, he took to Elkhart, Ind. and Ft. Myers, Fla. where the crowds and the approbation were plentiful. That was the beginning of February, back when the economic crisis was a catastrophe from which we might never emerge. Today, states are rarin' to spend the money, spurred by threats written into the bill and from the administration that they'll lose their money if they don't spend it on deadline.

The problem is the rules for doing so responsibly, and even lawfully, are largely unclear because the massive bill was pushed through Congress and signed by the president with precious little debate or thought, at the urging of the president himself. Perhaps that's something he could have been working on while he was accepting hosannas on the trail.

The administration's frequent miscues, particularly the lack of a viable plan for failing banks, make it easy to wonder exactly why Obama feels there's an urgent need to take a "time out" at his "time-out dinners."

Dana Milbank noted Obama's tendency to retreat to another trail tactic in December- evasion combined with sports talk. When possible contacts between White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and indicted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, were the talk of the day, Obama was having none of it, prompting this zinger from Milbank:

A month from now, the nation will say farewell to its sports-obsessed president who doesn't like tough questions. And it will replace him with, well, another sports-obsessed president who doesn't like tough questions.