Author Archives: Matthew Dickinson

Tales From the Campaign Trail: Kasich In New Hampshire

Today is the first of what I hope to be a regularly recurring feature on this site during the current election cycle: a post recounting a visit to a campaign event put on by one of the major presidential candidates. On Wednesday* I attended Ohio Governor John Kasich’s visit to West Lebanon, a small (population about 3,500) community in western NH situated along the Connecticut River. Despite a relatively late start in the race, Kasich has emerged as one of the stronger candidates, aided by what was generally perceived as a strong performance in the first Republican debate. Although he’s only at 3.4% in aggregate polls, which puts him in the lower middle of the Republican pack, he’s gaining ground in the crucial state of New Hampshire where he has emerged as Jeb Bush’s primary competition as the Donald Trump alternative.

Kasich’s rise in the New Hampshire polls made Tuesday’s event of particular interest to me. We arrived at the Kilton Public Library to find a standing-room-only crowd which I estimated at about 200 people. The audience seemed mostly middle-aged and up, with a few wearing shirts emblazoned with Kasich campaign slogan and logo, and there was a bit of a buzz of anticipation. After a short pep-rally style introduction by a local official, Kasich entered to polite applause. He was dressed casually, which fit well with his overall demeanor (see blurry photo below – blame new smart phone).


As one might expect with a candidate who is still not particularly well known, Kasich spent the first part of his relatively brief campaign spiel (he talked for maybe 15 minutes before taking questions) recounting his biography, starting with his working-class roots in Pennsylvania, and working his way through his political career beginning as a state Senator in Ohio, then his years in Congress, and finally his election as Ohio Governor in 2010. The narrative was spiced with some humorous asides, including a tale of Kasich’s meeting with President Richard Nixon. While it is common for presidential candidates to tout their humble roots, the implicit comparison between Kasich’s origins and those of his main New Hampshire rival Jeb! Bush was likely not lost on most audience members.

Kasich is viewed as a relative moderate among Republicans, a perception that is supported when looking at his primary fundraising sources – a metric that places him close to Bush, Christie and Pataki on the ideological spectrum. That moderation came across in Tuesday’s event when he began discussing, in broad strokes, the themes that animate his campaign. If I had to summarize Kasich’s approach in one word, it would be “balance.” Although clearly pushing conservative ideas, he repeatedly stressed the need to work across the political aisle and to compromise on issues, taking time to tout his own record of budget surpluses and compromise in Congress. In this vein he told an anecdote about his golfing foursome with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner, after which – according to Kasich – he took each of them aside and asked if they understood what a privilege it was to be in the positions they occupied. Kasich suggested that, at least for a brief period, that type of “we are in this together” thinking came close to leading to a budget breakthrough. (Left unsaid, of course, was the fact that it did NOT produce a breakthrough!)

Kasich repeated this theme in the question-and-answer session that took up most of the event’s time. Perhaps the only discordant note came early in the Q&A when an audience member pressed him somewhat aggressively on Kasich’s previous statements questioning the science underlying theories of climate change. Kasich conceded that some climate change reflected human activity, but he suggested that efforts to combat that change should not come at the expense of economic growth and he stressed the need to keep an open mind. He then used his answer to segue into a discussion about the need to diversify the nation’s power sources, emphasizing both renewable fuels but also nuclear and coal. For the most part, however, the tone of the questions was polite and they ran the gamut from Kasich’s view on fighting ISIS to the Iran nuclear deal to trade policy to restoring economic growth to repealing Obamacare. Kasich did not shy away from giving direct responses to each question although his answers were generally couched in broad strokes rather than specific detail.

Looking at my notes, here is what I recall about his responses, subject to correction by anyone who was there. Although he opposed the Iran nuclear deal, he indicated that as president he would not move to reimpose sanctions unless Iran violated the agreement. He would move toward a greater deregulation of the economy in order to entice more business to locate domestically, rather than overseas, describing himself as “a free trader, but a fair trader.” To spur economic growth, he recommended reducing the deficit budget, ending Dodd-Frank and ending Obamacare. In response to a lengthy question criticizing the role of seniority in Washington, Kasich noted that politicians rarely lose election because of a wrong vote. Instead, they are voted out when they lose the willingness to lead by making difficult choices on behalf of citizens.

In total, the event lasted about an hour. Kasich came across as affable, even folksy, someone very much at ease on the campaign trail talking to voters. He sprinkled his responses with humorous asides, at one point directing a very young (a five year old?) girl to come up alongside him to ask her question, much to her father’s delight and the crowd’s amusement (see blurry picture – curse you bald man!)

As far as I could tell from my observations and limited questioning (I was only able to talk to two people after Kasich departed), audience members left the event favorably disposed toward Kasich, although that’s not to say he won all their votes. It’s easy to see why he’s rising in the polls there, however. He exudes a type of Midwest reasonableness that stands in stark contrast to some of the more ideological firebrands in the Republican field, and his understated demeanor couldn’t be more different than The Donald’s bombastic persona. But his evenhanded responses should not obscure the fact that Kasich is clearly a conservative – when asked how to deal with ISIS, he responded “Destroy them” (after a lengthy discourse on how ISIS is able find recruits). Nonetheless, it seems clear that he views his chief rival in New Hampshire to be Bush, whose views overlap with his, and who has been spending the last two days on his own campaign trip to the Granite state. It is early in the campaign, and Kasich is still a relative unknown. But I suspect New Hampshire is a state in which he could do well, particularly if Bush and/or Trump falter.

I am tempted to end this post by giving Kasich one of those grades for which Mark Halperin is infamous  (Style: C+. Substance: B-. Overall: A!) Instead, I’ll adopt the Fox News mantra: I report, you decide! In the meantime, can you spot the intrepid blogger in the photo posted on Kasich’s website? Hint: I’m the uncouth one.

Until next time, hope to see you on the campaign trail!

*An earlier version of this post said “Tuesday”.  Evidently I can’t tell what day it is anymore.

What Political Science Teaches Us About Deflategate and the Berman Decision

What can political science teach us about today’s ruling by federal district court Judge Richard M. Berman to vacate Tom Brady’s suspension? Berman based his decision to overturn Commissioner Roger Goodell’s initial ruling on three basic points. First, Brady was given inadequate notice that he was liable for potential discipline for some of his alleged misconduct. Second, Brady’s legal team was denied the opportunity to cross-examine one of the NFL’s two lead investigators. And finally, Brady’s team did not have full access to all the investigative files, including the interview notes. The combination of these miscues led to Berman’s arbitration decision to reinstate Brady in time for the start of the 2015 football season. However, a close reading of Berman’s decision makes clear that although the rules of arbitration prevented him from directly challenging the factual findings undergirding Goodell’s original decision, the Judge was clearly skeptical of the evidence that ball deflation even took place, or if it did that it was a significant factor in Brady’s performance. Note that in his 40-page ruling, Berman takes pains to boldface the following excerpt from the Wells Report (the “independent” report headed by Ted Wells and commissioned by Goodell to investigate the allegation of ball deflation): “At the same time, the Wells Report acknowledged that ‘[o]ur scientific consultants informed us that the data alone did not provide a basis for them to determine with absolute certainty whether there was or was not tampering, as the analysis of such data is ultimately dependent upon assumptions and information that is uncertain.’ Id. At 131 (emphasis added.)” Moreover, in footnote 3 of his ruling, Berman points out that Brady’s performance improved in the second half of the game, using balls inflated to the legal pressure. In his ruling Berman also quotes the following passage in the Wells Report in which Wells states: “I want to be clear – I did not tell Mr. Brady at any time that he would be subject to punishment for not giving– not turning over the documents [emails and texts]. I did not say anything like that.”

What we have, then, is a district court judge essentially casting doubt that any crime occurred, and indicating that there was no cover up of any alleged crime based on what Brady was told he could and could not do. As such, it is a damning indictment of the Wells Report and it raises the obvious question: how could such a flawed analysis come about, never mind serve as the primary basis for a four-game suspension, not to mention team fines and loss of draft choices? The answer, I argue, is suggested in studies by political scientists of the incentives influencing the behavior of professionals in institutions. Many years ago Arthur Maass, the Harvard political scientist best known for his study of the Army Corps of Engineers, wrote a very incisive [gated] article examining  what he saw as out-of-control behavior by federal prosecutors – behavior motivated by the institutional benefits that come from winning high-profile cases and sending people to jail. As Maass explained, because so many of the investigations of alleged corruption by public officials turned on ambiguous interpretations of federal law, prosecutors adopted a “prosecutorial mentality” that made them predisposed to bring charges. When in doubt, assume guilt and prosecute accordingly. That tendency, alas, is reinforced by professional incentives. As the late, great James Q. Wilson notes in his magisterial study of government bureaucracy, professionals are employees who receive “some significant portion of their incentives from organized groups of fellow practitioners…. .” From this perspective, criminal lawyers are taught professionally, beginning in law school, to assume guilt and to read questionable evidence accordingly.

Both points seem particularly well-suited to explaining the genesis of the factually-challenged Wells Report. Rather than an independent investigation, Wells was hired by and worked for Goodell and the NFL, and we should not be surprised that his legal team arrived at the finding that Goodell wanted them to find. Moreover, Wells was likely to get a bigger professional boost by finding one of the NFL’s marquee players guilty, particularly given the wide public dislike of the Patriots. (Public opinion – that is, the general mass hysteria – on this issue is a whole other topic that deserves a separate analysis!) In short, a combination of institutional and professional incentives pushed Wells to adopt a set of assumptions that was most likely to lead to a judgment that Brady was guilty, even though the facts did not support such a conclusion. Hence a report riddled with questionable assumptions and statements such as “more probable than not” that Brady was “generally aware” of an effort to deflate balls. Similarly, after assuring Brady he didn’t need actual phone records, Wells interprets Brady’s initial decision not to provide them as evidence of guilt (Brady subsequently offered to provide them.)

Obviously, Berman’s ruling raises a host of questions, including what it means for Goodell’s tenure as commissioner, and whether the Patriots will get their fines rescinded and draft picks restored. It must also be said that Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who essentially tossed his star quarterback under the ownership bus, is not looking too good at this moment. And we might also wonder why we should accept any of the political analyses by the numerous journalists and pundits (you know who you are!) who were so quick to get on the Brady-is-guilty bandwagon despite the lack of conclusive evidence. I’m supposed to believe you can be impartial in describing a presidential election, when you botched this case so bad?

But the most critical finding, building on Maass’ and Wilson’s research, is that the NFL has to change its arbitration proceedings so that investigations instigated on their behalf are truly conducted by impartial investigators motivated by a desire to obtain the truth, rather than to burnish investigators’ professional ties and reputation.

Addendum 1:34.  It isn’t taking long for the presidential candidates seeking to curry favor with NH voters to get on the Brady bandwagon – here’s the The Donald’s tweet:

“Congratulations to Tom Brady on yet another great victory- Tom is my friend and a total winner!”

What Would A Sanders’ Presidency Look Like?

While most of the media understandably remains fixated on the horse-race aspect of the presidential contest (“Bernie’s surging!”), a few intrepid journalists are daring to think the unthinkable: what if Bernie actually won the election? What would a Sanders presidency look like? This is an important question, not least because how one answers it goes a long way – or should go a long way – toward determining whether one will vote for Bernie. In interviews with Vice’s Mike Pearl (that’s the website, not the anti-prostitution arm of the Vermont State Police), my colleague Bert Johnson and I engaged in some admittedly speculative musing about a possible Bernie presidency.  Of course, the immediate problem one faces in trying to anticipate what happens when the “face of grouchy stoicism” became “the first avowedly socialist president in United States history” is to understand how it happened. Obviously, if Sanders overcomes deep odds to become President, something entirely unprecedented in the political system occurred – but what? Did Hillary’s candidacy implode after investigators found the smoking email, leaving Bernie to win by default as the last candidate standing? Or did the American electorate exhibit a shift leftward, essentially deciding the time was ripe to adopt Bernie’s long-standing progressive principles? And if the latter, how big were his coattails? Did the Senate turn blue? (Possible, but unlikely.) The House? (Even more unlikely.) Answers to these questions go a long way toward determining the contours of a Bernie presidency. It is one thing to predict, as Pearl suggests (tongue-firmly-in-cheek) that in the aftermath of a Sanders’ victory “college students are taking celebratory bong rips” – quite another to know whether the new Congress is going to raise marginal tax rates on the wealthy, or pass Bernie’s education reform bill.

Of course, as both Bert and I suggested, we know a good deal about what Bernie’s domestic priorities will be, even if we can’t be sure how successful he would be in implementing them. As Bert notes, Sanders has been singing the same tune about the corporate overlords and income inequality for several decades. And he hasn’t missed a chance to hammer home those themes during his campaign speeches and on social media. As a result, I feel quite confident in suggesting that President Bernie will push to raise taxes on the wealthy and would try to address campaign finance reform. He’s also likely to work at raising the minimum wage. Bert pointed to efforts to address the student debt crisis.

I think it noteworthy, however, that when Pearl asked us about Bernie’s foreign policy, we quickly became far less confident, and far more speculative, in trying to predict what he would do in this realm. Both of us felt a Sanders’ presidency would be far more conventional in the foreign policy realm than domestically, but we didn’t provide much in the way of specifics. There is a reason for this, as Yahoo’s Chief Washington correspondent Olivier Knox points out in this excellent analysis of Sanders’ foreign policy record. As Knox writes, “The campaign website,, offers visitors access to the iconoclastic candidate’s thoughts on Income and Wealth Inequality, Getting Big Money Out of Politics, Creating Decent-Paying Jobs, Racial Justice, A Living Wage, Real Family Values, Climate Change and Environment, and Reforming Wall Street. But there’s no tab for Syria, the Islamic State, a rising China or strained relations with Russia.”

There are two reasons, as I suggested to Knox, for the paucity of foreign policy details on Candidate Sanders’ website. The first is that the race for the Democratic nomination, and for the presidency, is far more likely to turn on economic issues than on the foreign policy; the latter does not poll very highly among likely voters when asked what issues are most important to them. Second, Sanders’ views on foreign policy, beyond high-profiles issues like the vote on the Iraq War, don’t seem nearly as distinctive from Clinton’s as do his domestic views. But that doesn’t mean we are completely in the dark regarding what President Sanders is likely to do when it comes to foreign policy. I suggested to Pearl that “On foreign policy, I think Sanders is going to be more malleable; he’s going to be more willing to defer to the experts. Now if he has some basic principles that will guide him, I think he’s going to be more collaborative, more internationalist, less interventionist, than, certainly, George W. Bush, and perhaps Obama—less willing to engage militarily.” Beyond these basic principles, however, some clues to Bernie’s handling of foreign policy might be gleaned from his Senate record, something Knox does a very good job reviewing. I won’t repeat the details here – you should read Knox’s article – but suffice to say his stance on range of issues, from opposing the TransPacific Partnership trade agreement, to pursuing a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, to voting against the use of force against ISIL, is consistent with my characterization. Knox summarizes Sanders’ foreign policy record this way: “The picture that emerges is less that of a firebrand antiwar radical than a pragmatic liberal who regards military force as a second choice in almost any situation — but a choice that sometimes must be made.”

The biggest clue missing from this attempt to forecast a Sanders’ foreign policy, however, is knowing who he will turn to for foreign policy advice, and how he will structure his national security advising process. As I suggested to Knox, the two questions I would ask candidate Sanders on this topic are: “Who are you going to listen to on foreign policy? How will your organize your foreign policy process?” In thinking about these questions, I am reminded of this excellent Washington Post analysis of the Obama foreign policy decision-making process (hat tip to Jack Goodman) which shows how, on crucial policy decisions, Obama increasingly sought to bypass the foreign policy establishment in favor of centralizing decisionmaking within his own White House Office.  As I’ve discussed in my book Bitter Harvest, this pattern of White House centralization did not start with Obama; it has been a growing trend among recent presidents. And while the propensity among recent presidents to want to exercise tight control of foreign policy is understandable, there are real costs to this strategy. As the WaPo critique of Obama’s foreign policy process suggests, White House centralization also makes less likely that presidents are going to hear dissenting voices, particularly from experts whose views may clash with that of the president’s closest political advisers.

When it comes to assessing presidential candidates’ preparation for the White House, issues of institutional organization and process typically take a backseat to journalists’ concern regarding where candidates stand on the issues. This is unfortunate. As the critique of Obama’s foreign policy process suggests, and as President Bush discovered in his effort to direct the response to Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, a president’s legacy often turns less on what he believes and what issues he pursues than it does on how well he chooses and manages the officials who work on his behalf. Let’s hope journalists push Candidate Sanders on these managerial issues, so that President Sanders doesn’t have to learn their importance in the heat of a crisis.  We will all be better off if Sanders gives these managerial issues some careful thought before entering the White House.

Trust Me: We All Liked President Carter Then Too But…

By now, most of you have likely heard of Jimmy Carter’s recent announcement that he has cancer which has spread to his liver and to his brain. Carter, who is 90 years old, is undergoing radiation and other therapy, and faces an uncertain prognosis. However, he wryly noted in this press conference, hosted at the Carter Center six days ago, that this might be a “propitious time” to cut down on his busy schedule.

If you watched Carter discuss his illness during the press conference, you could not help but admire the courage and sense of humor he exhibited. When asked about the outpouring of affection that has come his way since his illness was revealed, Carter mentioned that he had received well wishes from all the former presidents, as well as President Obama and the Secretary of State, adding slyly that they hadn’t been calling him recently until his illness. He seemed, as much as anyone can be when facing a potentially terminal illness, completely at peace with whatever the outcome might be.

During the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, he was asked if in light of his illness he might reflect on his accomplishments. While he acknowledged that winning the presidency was important, not least because it gave him the platform for his post-presidency work with the Carter Center, it was the latter experience that was the most gratifying aspects of his life (with the important exception of marrying his wife Rosalynn!) Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work through the Carter Center.

Perhaps inevitably, he was asked if there was anything he would have done differently in his life. He acknowledged that he wished he had sent one more helicopter on the Iran hostage rescue attempt. As you will recall, that mission failed due to mechanical failures and accidents involving the helicopters sent to ferry the hostages back home. In his response, Carter suggested, to much laughter, that if the rescue operation had succeeded, he would have won a second term as president!

We should not be surprised that Carter is showing such grace in the face of such a terrible disease. I have remarked in previous posts that his is maybe the most successful ex-presidency we have seen, with perhaps the exception of John Quincy Adams’ post-presidential years in Congress.* Carter’s work through the Carter Center and his other philanthropic endeavors has touched lives across the globe, and he has set a precedent that other ex-presidents have sought to emulate. No wonder Carter often makes the list of most admired people.

But, given his defeat in the 1980 presidential election after serving only one term, it is easy to forget that even while serving as president he was held in relatively high esteem by the public for his personal qualities. As I’ve noted in previous posts, political scientists Morris Fiorina, Samuel Abrams and Jeremy Pope used responses to American National Election surveys in which Americans were asked about their views of presidential candidates to create two broad categories describing respondents’ overall views of the candidates’ personal attributes. As this chart from Fiorina’s New York Times op-ed piece discussing the research shows, Carter had the highest net positive evaluation of any of the two major party presidential candidates in 1952-2000 time period the authors studied. At the same time, his opponent Ronald Reagan had the second lowest rating, “bested” only by Bill Clinton’s dismal personal ratings in 1996. Even while president, then, voters praised Carter’s personal characteristics, if not his performance as president.

The lesson, as I discussed in a previous post that attracted not a little attention among pundits, is that in presidential elections, voters’ evaluations of national conditions and the experience and issue stances of candidates typically matters much more than do considerations of personal qualities, including honesty and trustworthiness. Indeed, running in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, candidate Carter vowed that he “would not lie to the American people.” Sometimes he might have taken that promise too far, as when acknowledging in a Playboy interview that he “looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do–and I have done it–and God forgives me for it.” Of course, Carter beat Gerald Ford in 1976, which one might attribute to voters’ rewarding him for his candor.  However, the gap between Ford and Carter on personal qualities, as measured by Fiorina et al, was smaller than that between Carter and Reagan in 1980.  In the 1980 election, Carter’s perceived honesty was not enough to overcome dismal economic conditions and prevent his defeat by a candidate who wasn’t held in nearly such high personal regard.

And that’s worth remembering in the face of the almost daily barrage of stories trumpeting Hillary Clinton’s evident lack of trustworthiness. Clinton may yet lose this race. But if so it’s likely that perceptions of her trustworthiness won’t be the primary reason why.

*Several readers have suggested that William Howard Taft, who served as the 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after leaving the presidency, might be included on this list.  I would also add Herbert Hoover, who chaired two important commissions studying the reorganization of the executive branch during his post-presidential years.

The State of the Race: Trump the Wonk, Carly’s Scrutiny, Biden’s Pledge and Lameducks and Nude Beaches

There are a variety of different political stories that caught my eye these last few days. Since I can’t tackle them all in the depth they deserve – at least not in a timely fashion – I thought I’d briefly comment on some of the most important. Here, in no particular order, are my thoughts about:

The Donald’s Debate Performance: In the media’s focus on reporting how Trump’s polling support is holding steady in the aftermath of the Fox-hosted political debate, perhaps the most important take-away from that event has been underplayed. Since the debate Trump has been making the media rounds, using a series of one-on-one interviews and policy pronouncements to showcase his policy credentials. Yes, his policies still contain their share of bombast and pleasing sound bites, but they are also more fleshed out than Trump’s previous pronouncements, which were typically all sizzle and no steak. Trump’s effort to fill in some of the details of his policy views, I suspect, is prompted by his realization that when standing on the debate stage next to his Republican competitors, the sound-bite pronouncements that work so well in staged settings orchestrated by his campaign to attract media coverage – “I will build a yuuuge wall, paid for by Mexico!” –  are much less effective in debates when compared to the more detailed policy pronouncements put forth by his rivals. Contrary to the media stereotype, Trump is a smart man (albeit one prone to bluster). He surely realizes that at this point his polling, with about a quarter of likely Republican voters supporting him nationally, is at best in Howard Dean territory, and that as the Republican field begins to get pared down it is quite possible Republican support will coalesce around one of his rivals, such as Bush or Rubio. In short, the Donald is making a concerted effort to step up his game. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next debate.

The Biden One-term Pledge. Reportedly Vice President Joe Biden will pledge, if he decides to run for president in 2016, that if elected he will only serve one term as president. He’s not alone. Lawrence Lessig, who is running a quixotic campaign for the Democratic nomination, has promised to do Biden one better – he will resign the presidency if he gets his policy initiative dealing with campaign finance reform passed.  In an earlier post I discussed the pros and cons of term limits and why I think limiting presidents to one term (formally or informally) is a very bad idea (although I don’t oppose term limits after two terms, at least not in principle), but candidates continue to trot this idea out, presumably because it gives them an aura of being above politics; they are concerned only with the public interest, and not with doing what will insure their reelection. It’s worth remembering that the Framers spent considerable time debating this idea, part of a larger debate on how to choose the president, only to reject it in favor of unlimited terms. That choice, of course, has since been superseded by the 22nd amendment. I happen to think there’s some virtue in making presidents remain sensitive to the political implications of their decisions, which is what occurs when presidents are free to seek a second term in office. In my view, it helps prevents the type of fiascos that I discuss in my previous post that have regularly afflicted recent presidents’ second terms.  In short, it is probably a helpful check on presidential actions to make them consider how the public might react to what they are proposing to do.

Carly Fiorina Has Been Discovered – and Now She Undergoes Scrutiny. I’ve referenced the Sides/Vavreck argument, coming out of their wonderful study of the 2012 presidential campaign, that relatively unknown presidential candidates who burst onto the scene often undergo a process of “discovery, scrutiny and decline”. This pattern accurately describes the candidacies of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and even Newt Gingrich (twice!) in 2012. So far, however, The Donald seems to be avoiding this pattern – his polling support has survived the extended scrutiny for a longer period than did any of the quartet from 2012. Now it’s Carly Fiorina’s turn. In light of her widely-praised performance in the “happy hour” version of the Fox debate, she instantly became the darling of the pundits. But with that favorable coverage she has also begun to receive more scrutiny, particularly of her tumultuous tenure as CEO at Hewlett Packard.  Of course, this scrutiny doesn’t come only from the media – rivals are only too happy to chime in.  In this vein, The Donald recently said this about Fiorina in an interview: “She’s a very nice woman, she got fired, she did a terrible job at Hewlett-Packard, she lost in a landslide — other than that, she’s a very nice woman.”

Did You Know the Obamas Are On Vacation? If one needs any more proof that Obama is a lame-duck president, it is this: almost no one is criticizing his vacation plans. The most critical media coverage I’ve heard centers on his choice of reading material while spending some down time at Martha’s Vineyard. Several years back I wrote this post analyzing why presidents continue to take vacations, and why they are constantly belittled for doing so. I noted that the President’s political opponents typically treat a vacationing president, no matter which party he represents, as the modern equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. For example, in a not atypical review, one critic wrote this about the Obama’s 2011 vacation on the Island: “Which begs the question – why did the president go ahead with his vacation despite the worst approval ratings of his presidency, plunging stock markets, falling consumer confidence, and overwhelming public disillusion with his handling of the economy? I think the answer lies in Obama’s professorial-style arrogance, and a condescending approach towards ordinary Americans.”  Yikes! Pardon me for wanting to soak up some rays!  I concluded my post by advising the President to get some rest and relaxation, but to avoid the nude beaches. (Denizens of Martha’s Vineyard will confirm that some of the best beaches there are clothing optional.) This time around, however, and in contrast to previous years, criticism of the president’s vacation plans seems largely muted which I can only believe reflects a more general sense that his presidency is nearing its end. For what it’s worth, I think it’s nice that the President and his family can finally enjoy a relaxing (the term is relative, of course, for a sitting president) two weeks in a picturesque island setting.

Nonetheless, I’d still be cautious about the whole nude beach thing… .