Obama, Reagan, and Presidential Work Ethic

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Reagan recovering in the hospital, April 1, 1981.Photo: The White House/Getty Images

President Obama currently places 9,543rd in ESPN's Tournament Challenge, which puts his March Madness bracket in the 99.8th percentile of accuracy. In comparison, college hoops pundit Dick Vitale is in 2,283,360th place. So Obama's picks were pretty damn good.

Not that he'll be bragging about them anytime soon. His mere participation in such a frivolous pursuit made him the target of scorn and mockery from Newt Gingrich, the RNC, and right-wing political commentators. With Libya, Japan, and the budget to deal with, Obama was failing to uphold his responsibilities, the argument went. Obviously this was a fairly typical political attack, but it did play into a common perception that the president shouldn't have time to mess around. In reality, though, the participation of the president, whoever he is, just really isn't as vital to the work being done by the federal government as most people assume.

We were reminded of this when we read the new book Rawhide Down, which chronicles the day Ronald Reagan was shot. Later on the night of the assassination attempt, Reagan was recovering in the hospital, making conversation with a nurse:

Gently, she said, "I bet you are pretty anxious with everything you have to do."

No, not really, Reagan said. He told her he had a great routine: he walked to the office before nine and was home in the residence by five or 5:30. He ate dinner and often watched a movie with his wife, then went to bed. "I have three guys who mostly run things for me," he said.

The point is not to compare the work ethics of Reagan and Obama. It's that, whether or not we actually witness our presidents during their downtime — in an ESPN video, for example — they've got plenty of downtime. And that's fine. Unlike a lowly air-traffic controller, they can take a nap (or watch a movie, or fill out a bracket) and it won't really matter.