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Trivial Pursuits in Times of Peril

“For my Dad, America was the land of opportunity, where the circumstances of birth are no barrier to achieving one’s dreams,” Romney said in a high-profile New Hampshire speech earlier this month. He added: “The spirit of enterprise, innovation, pioneering and derring-do propelled our standard of living and economy past every other nation on earth. I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag.” – GOP 2012 theme: American ‘decline’

What’s playing out in Japan right now is overwhelming to comprehend. Looking at Libya, same thing, as Germany blocks an Anglo-French no-fly zone plan, while the Saudis sent troops into Bahrain, and today a report that Sect. Clinton was snubbed in Egypt. We’ve got our own domestic challenges too, so there are few places to turn for comfort.

During Rush Limbaugh’s first hour today he went on a bender about Pres. Obama’s NCAA bracket picks, which was a top item on Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning (where I get my early a.m. news), which NRO quickly picked up with a “Wow.” When I wrote about it today on Twitter, as I often do when I listen to the first hour of Rush, Politico’s Jonathan Martin responded that it was also on the top of Drudge, which stands to reason since Limbaugh often channels what’s on his front page. In the center column was PRESIDENT CHECKS OUT: FOCUS ON B-BALL BRACKETS… with a link to a weird little piece on Obama not being present enough as the world roils.

I’ll let you be the judge of whether Pres. Obama is doing his job, which is the crux of the Right’s argument today, joined by other anti-Obama sites, evidently believing that a moment spent on NCAA March Madness picks will mean the end of American greatness.

But I also won’t make light of the image issue being presented, because one of the reasons Ronald Reagan was elected is because at the end of Pres. Carter’s first term he seemed not on top of what was happening in the world, while considered responsible for America slipping. That’s the main theme of the GOP for 2012. Now all the Right needs is a Reagan.

However, the notion that Pres. Obama needs to be either looking grim and concerned or be hidden away for fear of seeming frivolous amidst Japan’s catastrophic nuclear challenge is not only ridiculous, but inconsistent with life itself.

Taking 30 minutes to enjoy the simple pleasures of life while Japan roils is not craven. It’s called living. Like him or not, approve of his politics or not, Pres. Obama is on the job 24/7, non-stop. To suggest that by taking a few moments out to honor the pleasures of sports is presidential sacrilege is misunderstanding the importance of trivial pursuits at times of great stress. So what if Pres. Obama plays golf on Saturday? George W. Bush did it all the time, which Rush and the Right never cared about.

Life is a pressure cooker. High stress jobs and situations make it even worse. Being president is beyond what any of us can imagine, especially today, and let’s hope one of Barack Obama’s plans is to live well beyond his presidency, not kill himself in the job.

Taking some time to enjoy life doesn’t mean a president or a person isn’t taking care of business. No one can immerse him- or herself in work constantly without eventually blowing a physical fuse.

It’s not a sin to enjoy life even when others are suffering. In fact, it’s more important to appreciate the gifts of life when you’re spared tragedy and take the time to breathe in the bounty when fate passes you by.

As for the Republican 2012 message of “American ‘decline,’” if they had a candidate there is no doubt Pres. Obama is vulnerable for this type of marketing. People like the President, but his standoffish, non-engagement leadership style amidst world events exploding, with Americans used to our presidents inserting himself and our country across the globe, is not going down well with everyone.

A normal moment of trivial pursuit comes off as out of touch. Cue the Jimmy Carter theme music, which is exactly what Republicans are turning to with their 2012 “American ‘decline’” theme, which in times when people feel overwhelmed and powerless could resonate.

If only Republicans had a candidate who could sell the message, but they don’t, at least not yet.

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