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Elliptical Trainers And The Meaning Of Life

It's probably best not to think too deeply about the meaning of where politicians vacation (just like it's best not to think too deeply about what it means when they don't wear socks), but Ben Smith makes some smart points about Obama's Hawaii sojourn:

Aside from the devotion to exercise, Obama's seems like a pretty ordinary vacation. Random trips to water parks, old friends, and relatives; no apparent celebrities. 

Bill Clinton, notoriously, polled his vacation spots. George Bush's Crawford ranch is part of his carefully manicured image as a Westerner. But it's hard to think of a good political reason to vacation in Hawaii, a blue state that most mainlanders only grudgingly regard as part of the United States, and whose singular, multicultural society, which formed the president-elect, is little known or discussed. (A notable exception: that amazing David Maraniss profile of Obama.)

There is, nonetheless, a political logic to vacationing in Hawaii. Part of Obama's success was always his authenticity. Aside from some wince-inducing bowling and sipping of beer, he rarely attempted to be somebody he wasn't. He didn't hoist a shotgun or pretend to be a hunter; on the other end of the spectrum, he never pretended to have other politicians' gift for feeling individuals' pain, or cry at town halls. Vacationing in Hawaii, for no reason except the obvious ones, is good politics because that authenticity is, these days, perhaps the most valuable political commodity. It will be interesting to see if Hawaii remains the "Western White House" after he takes office.

The other political logic to Obama's pretty ordinary vacation might be gleaned from this exchange he had with David Cameron this past summer, which was picked up by a hovering boom mic: 

Mr. Cameron: You should be on the beach. You need a break. Well, you need to be able to keep your head together.

Mr. Obama: You’ve got to refresh yourself.

Mr. Cameron: Do you have a break at all?

Mr. Obama: I have not. I am going to take a week in August. But I agree with you that somebody, somebody who had worked in the White House who — not Clinton himself, but somebody who had been close to the process — said that should we be successful, that actually the most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking.

Come to think of it, Obama's desire for those big chunks of time devoted to thinking might also explain his fanatical workout routine. I know that the time I spend running or looking like a fool on an elliptical trainer is, often times, my most productive 45 minutes of the day in terms of thinking. In fact, I shudder to think how many stories I've worked out in my head as I do my best Tony Little-impersonation. Maybe it's the same for Obama. In that sense, his devotion to fitness might not be so Bush-esque after all.

--Jason Zengerle