Anybody watching the television news this past week most likely saw, other than Mad Men, President Barack Obama address the nation twice from the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where he’s been vacationing with his family.
Certainly, we can’t fault his choice of getaway: though economic times are desperate for many and President Obama was elected as the “people’s” candidate, a leader from the Midwest who would give ear to the common man, his choice of the WASP-y retreat of New England money is understandable: it’s a really, really nice place.
In all honesty, the President’s job is arguably the hardest and most demanding in the world and where he chooses to vacation is his own business and, for the most part, beyond reproach.
What is more appropriate to critique is his conduct while there. The President is, even at rest, still the President; the office requires a level of decorum and taste at all times, no matter the occasion or location, and in both televised appearances this week President Obama fell short of the mark: first, in re-appointing Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve and second, when delivering a statement about the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. In the first instance, the President appeared in a suit but no tie, while Mr. Bernanke looked like a Carnival cruise lines captain in white pants and a blazer, also sans tie. In the second, the President appeared in tan slacks and a white Oxford shirt, without tie or even a jacket.
While any man, President or not, is entitled to dress comfortably while on vacation, when the President addresses the country and the world on national television and speaks as the President he is not on vacation; he is on the job. The situation requires Presidential bearing and solemnity. The world is watching, and judging. A tie is hardly too much to ask, even of a man at leisure. Mr. Obama gave the impression of being more concerned with Vineyard fashion than with the responsibilities of his office.
A modicum of respect for his position is required of the President when acting in an official way, as when speaking on television, and in both instances this week Mr. Obama fell short.