There are a lot - an awful lot - of things to criticize Donald Trump for. That he plays golf a lot isn’t one of them.
There are a lot of things to criticize this Congress for. That it takes an August recess isn’t one of them.
First, the president. Yes, he’s a terrible hypocrite (because he spent years attacking Barack Obama for playing golf only to head for the links as soon as he took office). And, far more important, his trips to golf courses he owns are a form of advertising for his properties, and therefore a form of cashing in on his presidency - and he absolutely should be held accountable for that.
But the recreation itself? Presidents need both recreation and exercise, just as anyone does. But unlike most people, presidents can zip through 18 holes quickly, and at any rate, even more than most normal folks nowadays, they bring their office with them wherever they go.
As for Congress, Lee Drutman at Polyarchy has the latest studies, which tend to show that the number of days Congress spends in Washington don’t seem to be related to productivity.
Meanwhile, most members of Congress aren’t on “vacation” when Congress isn’t in session. They’re back home in their districts, communicating with their constituents, in ways that are quite important to healthy representation. Or they’re off on fact-finding trips - and while some of those junkets are thinly disguised perks, there’s almost always real education going on as well for the people who, after all, are responsible for the world beyond the borders of their districts.
Of course, some of the 535 members of the House and Senate are going to be lazy time-servers. But they can do that just as easily - perhaps more easily - in Washington while Congress is in session. The part of their job that’s back in the district is a lot harder to fake.
As for the president? He’s surely intellectually lazy. But it’s not clear at all that he puts in fewer hours on the job than other presidents, and at any rate the number of times he’s on the golf course wouldn’t really be a good proxy for whether he’s hard at work.
The real problems with Trump’s work style appear to be an appalling inability to focus on the complexities of policy choices, a terrible lack of management skills, and awful judgment about what constitutes a good source of information.
It’s not a bad thing for presidents to monitor the mass media, not only to see how things are playing but also to check whether they are being adequately briefed on all reasonable options. It is a bad thing for presidents to watch the most inane partisan media sources and buy whatever they are pitching to their least critical audiences.
But that’s not a question of time spent on the job.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.