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When boredom is not an option

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Sept. 9, 2014

When boredom is not an option
President Obama's hair, like the locks of most of the presidents in their second terms, has turned white. He says he doesn't get enough sleep but he's nevertheless energized, not exhausted. Bored is more like it.

There should be plenty to keep the president from nodding off. He can see that the world is on fire and there's nobody to put out the flames. Immigrant waves continue to pour across the southern border. Vladimir Putin is trying to rebuild the Soviet empire and making it look easy. The economy continues permanent residence in the dumpster. Even with the usual presidential mulligans, Mr. Obama still can't break a hundred. Woe is definitely him. The zest is gone, replaced by lassitude. The French, as they usually do, have a $2 dollar word for it. The president suffers ennui.

Sometimes the terminally bored are the last to know. "You know," the president told Chuck Todd, the new interlocutor of "Meet the Press," over the weekend, "I actually feel energized about the opportunities we've got. There are days where I'm not getting enough sleep, because we've got a lot on our plate. You know, when you're the president of the United States, you're not just dealing with the United States." It's a grander job than that for the grander man. He's the president of the world, with all its dilemmas, disasters and diseases, from the ebola virus to the more virulent strains of distorted Islam. "You know," he said, "our in-box gets pretty high."

This sounds in skeptical ears like "poor me," but maybe that's unfair. The president is just bored. He doesn't sound exhausted. He hurried away from his interview to play another round of golf at Fort Belvoir, in the 90-degree heat and killer humidity of late summer.

Mr. Obama doesn't have much truck with Lincoln's notion that America is "the exceptional nation," but he does think America is "the only indispensable nation." Unlike most of his constituents, he thinks it's his leadership that is "making a difference." He takes satisfaction in that. "That keeps you getting up, even if you haven't gotten as much sleep as you want."

This president isn't usually given to introspection, in part because there's never anything amiss to inspect, but he concedes that he might have got the optics wrong when he finally said something about the beheading of an American and then couldn't wait to race off to the links again. "It's always a challenge when you're supposed to be on vacation." You might think the evil-doers of the world would give a vacationing president a break, and postpone their beheadings, car-bombings, plane crashes and train wrecks.

He just doesn't sound energized. He has always seemed puzzled by the demands real life makes on presidents. When he set out to be the president he had no idea of what a president can be called on to do. He imagined making a speech or two in the morning, hitting the links in the afternoon and hopping hither and yon about the country when the sun went down to take applause and endless curtain calls. Nice work if you can get it, and he got it.

But who wants to deal with congressmen, who are always breaking a sweat about something, worrying about this legislation and that regulation, eager to cut a bolt of cloth to fit the fashions of every other November. Who needs that? Presidents shouldn't be expected to sweat the boring stuff.

Barack Obama arrived in Washington with only the experience of a "community organizer," and as exciting as that experience may be it can't tell a man much about how to be a president. Two years in the U.S. Senate wouldn't tell him much more, and only ingrains habits no man should indulge. A senator settles easily into the routine of a rajah, with an aide standing by to do everything for him. If a senator needs to scratch in an embarrassing place, there's an aide to do that. If he needs to burp, there's someone standing by to burp for him.

Mr. Obama is a living example of why picking presidents from the Senate rarely works out well. Presidents who were governors arrive with experience is dealing with cranky and greedy legislators, and need little on-the-job training. Ronald Reagan came to town early to charm Tip O'Neill, and got his program through a skeptical Democratic Congress. Bill Clinton demonstrated that even experience in a small state is enough. What works in Sacramento or Little Rock can work in Washington. Boredom is not an option. oncedes he doesn't have a strategy to fight ISIS, he could pick up a few pointers from the prime minister. Presidents and prime ministers who write together should fight together.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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