Time off from ruling the world

Today the BBC reported President Obama’s frustration at not being able to go for a walk. We all know politician’s personal lives are pretty much put on hold and their schedules being 24/7 when they reach the top of the ladder, but this asks the question, how much do we expect our leaders to give up?

Entering office unofficially means leaving your life as you know it at the door. In television documentaries the UK’s past Prime Ministers have been showed as having 24/7 schedules, with little personal time being left for family or socialising. David Cameron had barely stepped in the door of Number 10 when his wife gave birth to another baby. Besides the obvious antifeminist look this provides politician’s partners with of being the stay at home mum with little choice but to give up their own careers in favour of their husband’s, it adds to the reason for the growing campaigns to incorporate men into family life more.

Politicians not only have to be excellent leaders and decision-makers, they must also strive to be example-setters, and though the images the media presents us with are rarely anything but complimentary towards the rest of a politician’s family, it does leave me wondering how many fake smiles are amongst the ones put together for yet another community appearance and how many are actually ready to give it all up for just one normal day. Is the best example to provide one of all work, no play?

The Obama article mentioned above described how the socially-deprived president took an unscheduled walk to the Lincoln memorial and met members of the unsuspecting public. I’m enjoying picturing his security staff pleading with him not to do it before seeing nothing able to stop Obama run up the steps two at a time, with a beaming smile of White House freedom, however temporary it was before being escorted back home by a large group of bulletproof vest-wearing security guards.

Making a run for it?

It’s hard not to feel sorry for someone who says they don’t really like golf all that much, but playing a game means they are allowed outdoors for a while and so they do, and I understand how difficult arranging time off must be. With so much foreign correspondence to adhere to and so many time zones to consider while doing so, it puts the impossibility of a 9-5 into perspective, not to mention the workload that would never be fitted in.

To go back to the long-suffering families, is it just me who thinks it’s strange that it’s hard to think of a political couple who have gone through a marriage breakdown? Are the political wags of the world simply paid a ‘put up with it’ allowance and forced into a secret contract omitting them from the choice to divorce if things get too tough? I wouldn’t be surprised. So what sort of work/life balance should leaders really have?

On one hand, the UK has a slight advantage this year in that the Deputy PM has had a rather public role in his duties, making it appear more acceptable to fully take over for Dave to take his 28 days a year without being on call. On the other hand, it’s Nick Clegg and nobody trusts him to do anything anymore. Public opinion aside, Clegg’s raised profile as deputy has set an example for how involved his position should be in running the country. Why shouldn’t two people do the job on an everyday basis and allow one another time to breathe occasionally?

With Barack Obama stating that he misses things like squeezing fruit on a Saturday morning, and only being half way through his first term in the White House, I believe he may regret his decision to run for president at such a young age. Perhaps critics of his age during his election campaign weren’t always referring to his political experience, but to his ability to give up time with a young family and miss out on parent-teacher school nights.

It’s a tough call to take when countries clearly benefit from having leaders deeply involved in aspects of the legislation they set. The younger they are, the more likely they are to have families still in education, for example, and being directly involved in an aspect of society will help to understand the governing of it, but an older leader may feel less family pressure to take time off. It all ties in with the 21st century argument of whether couples should have careers or children first. Both work for different people, it’s impossible to favour one or the other.

Perhaps Obama has the right mix of a team with an older Vice President. I’m sure his campaign rivals will use his claims to want more freedom against him in the coming campaign years. It’s going to be interesting to see how much he incorporates Joe Biden into a response to this. Is he as social media savvy though, I wonder?

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