Should We Criticize Obama for Vacations and Parties?

Lest we forget, President George W. Bush endured a fair amount of criticism for going on vacation while <fill in the bank crisis> raged somewhere in the world. It’s a common refrain for critics of any given president to lament any breaks taken.

Most recently, some folks are up-in-arms over President Obama attending a birthday party while the situation in Missouri deteriorates. From The Blaze:

The president was slammed by his critics for attending the lavish party as unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, seemingly neared a boiling point as police and protesters clashed for the fourth night in a row following the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Are these critics suggesting a riot in Missouri should cancel someone’s birthday party? How should the president intervene? What role does the chief executive of the United States have in a law enforcement matter in Missouri?

In this example, we happen to be considering the president. But there’s a broader principle in play which applies to all of us. What claim does someone else’s tragedy have upon your happiness? Do we rob something from a mother in grief over the loss of her son when we happily take ours to the zoo? What’s the appropriate level of general misery which ought to be enforced, lest someone feel alienated by the happiness of others?

It’s the spiritual manifestation of the same moral argument we tackle in the political discourse. Someone else needs something – healthcare, a job, housing – and we’re expected to provide it. Just as such claims are made on an individual’s property, so are they made on an individual’s mood. You should care about what I care about. You should be sad, because I’m sad. You should refrain from laughing while I cry.

It’s entirely legitimate to criticize someone for indulging at the expense of vital responsibilities. To the extent Obama has neglected his job, you can build a case against his vacations. But this idea that he or any person should not enjoy life while others languish in misery proves as immoral as any have-not claim upon the lives of haves.

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 9:26 minutes long; 9.06 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)