Itís fortunate for President Barack Obama that he happens to be from Hawaii. He has a good excuse over the Christmas holidays to fly far from Washington, far from the weather fronts raging across the Eastern states, far from the political bickering and gamesmanship that from a distance seem so small.
Instead, he has repaired to Kailua, Hawaii, tucked neatly on the rainy side of the mountains from Honolulu. Obama grew up in an apartment building in downtown Honolulu with his grandmother, who was a banker. The building is still there. So is the Baskin-Robbins where he worked when he was in high school.
If you call up the weather app on your iPhone and punch in Kailua, you will see that every day this week the weather will be 79 degrees (high) and 72 degrees (low, with a low of 70 degrees on Friday and Saturday). The first family will be able to enjoy the seclusion of a protected compound near the beach. But he has been known to venture out to the shopping plaza for shaved ice, as itís called, with his daughters (think snow cone with exotic flavors), not to mention the golf course.
It beats cutting brush, which was the preferred recreation of Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush. George H.W. Bush favored the speed boat he kept at Kennebunkport, Maine. Bill Clinton was into golf and schmoozing.
There is no escaping your duties if you are president; at least, the rest of us think thereís no escaping. Even on the golf course, youíve got to be wondering about Syria and healthcare.gov, not to mention South Sudan, where chaos appears to be spreading. Who would have guessed that South Sudan would be featured during the presidentís daily briefing on Christmas in Hawaii?
All the year-end commentary has suggested that 2013 has been a year from hell for Obama, starting with the high of the inauguration in January and the heady prospect of success in pushing for gun-safety legislation, immigration reform and the successful launch of Obamacare. He had a mandate after vanquishing Mitt Romney in the election. He had popularity and poll numbers. The Republicans were back on their heels.
But his tally of troubles is a long one. Back on their heels or not, the Republicans have been able to block him at every turn. The election of 2010, which turned control of the House to Republicans, was an enduringly fateful and consequential election. The House does not have to do much of anything, and it hasnít. Thus, the Houseís failure to act becomes Obamaís failure, and Obama gets the blame.
How much nicer to sip passion fruit juice on the lanai as the sun appears above the blue Pacific. Presumably, this 17-day interlude in Hawaii is not a period of indolence for Obama. One imagines that he is clarifying his thinking, sharpening his plans, gearing up and getting ready for what is to come. The challenges are as daunting and as multifarious as are all the lingering complaints that people tend to nurture. We imagine that the president can embrace our troubles and solve them. But he is one man, standing on a beach, looking out to sea, wondering, what next.
The rest of us will be scraping away the ice, shoveling the slush, getting back to work after the holidays, perhaps fortified from the good cheer and holiday warmth that we enjoyed. Itís a complicated world, and in our own little spheres we have our jobs to do. Soon enough the Obamas, after lovely days of benign weather and balmy waters, will be back in the cockpit of controversy at the White House. The nation has invested much of its hopes and aspirations in the leader whom it has steadily thwarted as he works on our behalf. Itís crazy. It makes Hawaii look good. But thatís life in these United States.