According to this website, Barack Obama has hit the links 91 times since taking the oath of office in 2009. That is a record and he has 13 more rounds scheduled during his current 17-day Hawaiian vacation. Talk show host Joe Pagliarulo spent several minutes discussing Obama’s golf habit the other day while filling in for Sean Hannity, and he is not alone in the almost universal condemnation of Obama’s apparent disregard for the responsibilities of the office of president. Those on the left, like Chris Matthews, think Obama is failing in his primary objective as legislator in chief. Those on the right cite this supposed dereliction of duty as evidence that Obama cannot handle the job, is overwhelmed and overmatched and should step down. They insist a real president, like George W. Bush, who famously stopped golfing to show “solidarity with soldiers serving in Iraq,” would respect the office and show the American people that he is at work for them.
I have a better suggestion: Please, for the sake of the United States, Mr. Obama, keep golfing! In fact, I would like it if you went golfing every day. Stay far away from the Oval Office and fulfill your constitutional duty by letting Congress legislate while you avoid doing anything that might be construed as legislative in nature. As I point out in my The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution, “The executive was not meant to be the dominant branch of the general government, Congress was … and the Constitution as ratified does not allow for unrestrained executive authority. Returning the executive branch to its proper role should be the primary focus of all Americans who want a return to constitutional government.”
To be sure, Obama is breaking modern protocol by his seemingly uninspired executive performance. James K. Polk, president from 1845-1849, was the first to show the American people that he was willing to burn the midnight oil, literally, while in office. He had gas lights installed in the White House in order to work through the night. Abraham Lincoln spent many nights at the War Department during the War Between the States. Grover Cleveland often worked 20-hour days and at least six days a week. And both Roosevelts spent long hours poring over legislation and playing politics.
These men were not alone. From Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom” to George W. Bush’s “Compassionate Conservatism” to Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change,” the American presidency has become the staging ground for legislative proposals and agendas. Americans in the modern era demand that “their” president put his nose to the grindstone and put in 20-hour days. That is the problem. Early presidents, such as Polk, can be excused for working long hours. They answered much of their correspondence in person and did not have the convenience of modern technology or large staffs. Cleveland worked long days in an attempt to thwart the volumes of unconstitutional legislation that crossed his desk. But the others spent many hours trying to transform the general government and enhance presidential authority. The president has become a knee-capper, a “bully” as Teddy Roosevelt called the office, a man responsible for giving the “treatments” of Lyndon Johnson. He is now charged with bringing both wavering supporters and opponents of “his legislation” alike in line. That is appropriate behavior for a king or a dictator, but not for a limited executive. Barack Obama avoids this type of activity (thankfully) and thus has met the consternation of the left and the ridicule of the right. This is one area where he is acting more like the founding generation than not.
The “job” of being president has lost its constitutional mooring. The president was never supposed to be the “CEO” of the United States, the man who single-handedly “ran” the country. He is not the head of a party, a political hack who makes great speeches or the chief legislator responsible for ramming “his legislation” through Congress. He is not a prime minister, contrary to what Woodrow Wilson said. As I wrote in The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution, “He is not the chief legislator, does not have unchecked power over the military or foreign policy, cannot rule by decree, and has no control over ‘the commerce or currency of the nation’ [those were Alexander Hamilton’s words in Federalist No. 69]. Most presidents in the modern era have ignored and violated these constraints. Members of the founding generation feared executive abuse above all else and sought to restrain it as much as possible.”
The more Obama plays golf, the less Americans have to worry about his legislative agenda. By the way, I would also like him to bring along most of the 535 members of Congress, particularly the folks who think creating more regulations, passing more laws and adding more debt and pork to the general budget are the proper roles of a member of Congress. As the great Roman historian Tacitus wrote around 117 A.D., “The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government.” Nothing changes. So, spend as much time away from Washington as possible and leave the specific concerns of the American people to state and local governments. That is true federalism and the original intent of our federal republic.
Brion McClanahan holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of South Carolina. He is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (Regnery, 2009) and The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History, 2012), as well as the forthcoming Forgotten Conservatives in American History with Clyde Wilson (Pelican, 2012). You can find his Facebook fan page here.