WLIW (a local PBS station) broadcast an episode of Inspector Morse the other night. Of course I’d seen it before as I have all of the late John Thaw’s 33 wonderful performances as the erudite and emotionally complex Oxford detective created by Colin Dexter. In this story Morse and his deputy Sergeant Lewis once again arrive on the scene of what they determine is a murder. Morse is ready to commence the investigation as always, but there is a problem. Lewis informs him that he is about to take a week’s holiday, one that Morse had approved but as usual has forgotten. A holiday? Morse will have none of it. Someone has been murdered and this is no time to be taking off. Not that Morse couldn’t solve a crime on his own, and usually does, but the idea that Lewis could walk off the job at this crucial moment just doesn’t fly.
There was a time in my own professional life when vacations seemed out of the question – I once went three or four years without taking time off. For some reason, I deluded myself into thinking that the show could not go on without me which definitely was not the case. There is no other way to describe my avoiding time off, it was stupid. Everyone needs to recharge the batteries if only to maximize what little we have to offer. Lewis should have taken his time (which he didn’t) and Morse should have let him (which would have been out of character).
Much has been made of George W. Bush’s extended vacation in the time of war and indeed, as Maureen Dowd recently wrote in the NY Times, he has taken almost the equivalent of a full year’s vacation time since taking office (and he’s less than five years in). She and others have pointed to the hypocrisy of dismissing the French for their vacationing and work ethic (which they also do regularly on CNBC) in comparison. I couldn’t say it better than others have and won’t try. I am intrigued however by what all this time off says about Bush and the presidency.
My shunning vacations was ultimately an act of inflated self importance, making sacrifices that were totally unnecessary and inappropriate. My family suffered for it. I admit to that (and have long since corrected my ways). The fact is, however, that my decision also reflected that I really loved my work. Spending time in the office or out with clients gave me great satisfaction and, yes, joy. I think Bill Clinton (who did take vacations) felt the same way about his work as president (which he hated to leave). George W. Bush, I’ve decided, does not. Oh for sure he loves the trappings of the job – the pomp and circumstance, the occasional opportunities to dress up, the sitting at the center of the table and having the last word on things. But I don’t think he really likes doing the presidency most of which has to be executed out of sight by men (sadly still the case) who put their pants on one leg at a time. He also clearly doesn’t like Washington which admittedly can be a tough place to do business. One wonders why he made a run for it in the first place. In any event, here we are, our lives and fortunes dominated by a man who has made some of the worst domestic and foreign policy decisions in recent memory, who manipulated himself into office with slogans, marketing and legal maneuvers and he doesn’t really like the job. Who would have thought?