It’s that time of year again—the time when many take summer vacation, and the time when many will criticize President Barack Obama for doing so. I’m not one of these critics. In fact, I may be one of the few people in America now genuinely convinced that the president should take more vacation time, not less.
The Republican National Committee posted a roundup of headlines intended to make it clear that the commander in chief is off lollygagging while Rome burns and the average hardworking American is left toiling in the salt mines—or, more likely, a cubicle. It’s a message that’s being pushed by conservative elected officials as well as certain media outlets.
At a recent event, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas crowed, “I think the president should actually stand up and do his job as commander in chief, should spend less time on the golf course and more time doing the job to which he was elected.” The Daily Mail ran with the headline, “Obama to Jet Off on Two-Week Martha’s Vineyard Vacation Despite Launching Airstrikes in Iraq and Fresh Battles in Gaza.” The subheading reinforced the disapproving tone, reading, “Even as the military carried out airstrikes in Iraq on Friday morning, Obama did not cancel the trip.”
Over the course of the last year, the theme has ramped up. Months ago, the Washington Times ran the story, “As Crimea Falls, Obama Takes Key Largo Golf Vacation,” while the Associated Press wrote, “Ukraine Doesn’t Keep Obama From Florida Golf Vacation.” The Washington Examiner recently blared, “5 Months Off: Martha’s Vineyard Break Will Put Obama Over 140 Days on Vacation.” The article goes on to note the criticism Obama’s vacations elicit in an age in which the average American takes barely any vacation at all.
And therein lies the problem. We have all become so used to living in an age in which none of us takes a real vacation that we are suspicious of those who do—even though study after study indicates that those who take vacation time are more productive than those who don’t.
Bloomberg Businessweek reported on research conducted by former NASA scientists that found an “82 percent increase in job performance” from employees returning from a vacation. But just as noteworthy, the analysis found “vacation deprivation” leads to more employee mistakes. The bottom line is that everyone, regardless of profession, needs a mental, emotional and physical break to recharge. Those in more stressful roles are even more likely to need to recharge their batteries.
I certainly wouldn’t want a surgeon operating on me who had performed surgeries 365 days in a row with no break, so why would we want the leader of the free world making life-or-death decisions when he is emotionally or physically exhausted?
The unflattering coverage of the president’s vacations says far more about American culture than it does about our commander in chief. Americans take the fewest vacations of any industrialized nation. (The United States is one of the few industrialized countries that don’t legally require vacation time.) An Oxford Economics report (pdf) found that 42 percent of Americans don’t use all the vacation time they accrue at their jobs. And often, what little time we do take off, we don’t really use to its full benefit. I say this as someone who filed a story and conducted a phone interview while sitting on the beach during my last supposed “vacation.”
Yet despite all data showing that it isn’t healthy, or particularly productive, for America to become a no-vacation nation, the trend continues.
So if the president deserves any criticism, it should be for not using the criticism his vacations have generated to spark a larger conversation about the importance of vacations for all Americans. With all of the evidence that vacations would make us a more productive nation—not to mention the fact that taking lengthy vacations appears to be one of the few things Republican and Democratic members of Congress agree on—this issue has the potential to be a rare patch of bipartisan territory in the Obama era.