“The bear is loose.”
-President Obama, leaving the White House to walk to the Interior Department, May 22
“The bear is loose.”
-President Obama, leaving the White House, June 9, on an impromptu walk to Starbucks
Leaving the White House addressing yourself as a bear one time may be regarded as a misfortune. Two times in as many weeks looks like a cry for help.
Are you okay, Mr. President?
I know you’re not supposed to ask. But he keeps making unscheduled trips to do things like see the Baseball Hall of Fame and interact with live humans and get Shake Shack and Starbucks (not that craving Shake Shack or Starbucks is a sign of anything wrong, or my whole life is wrong).
But he keeps saying this bear thing, which if anyone in my immediate family did, would worry me that he was having a midlife crisis of some kind or getting serious cabin fever or maybe both. (I say this as someone who recently spent several days locked in her apartment eating hummus, deprived of any human contact, in order to start to finish writing a book, which resulted in sending an e-mail to my editor announcing that “I haven’t really slept but I think I might be the Messiah?”– so, I know warning signs of cabin fever, is what I’m getting at.)
So: Mr. President, are you okay? Do you need to take a break?
The modern presidency, as people have remarked before, is a peculiar form of torture. You are deprived of sleep, deprived of privacy, forced to make speeches all the time and constantly given strings of difficult choices. Also, every so often, you have to interact with Congress or pacify a stranger’s smelly baby, but I repeat myself. At the end of a day of choice-making, studies reveal, most of us are absolutely terrible and useless — and most of our choices come down to things like “Is this yogurt okay to eat?” and “Is this blue cheese moldy or has it just become more blue cheese?” Now try that while you’re jetlagged and everyone is yelling at you and your decisions actually matter. If someone approaches you during the wrong part of the afternoon, we could accidentally wind up with a surveillance state. (“How much do you want us to tap? Everything, nothing?” “I don’t know, I guess everything?”) (I’m sure this is not actually quite how these things go, but you never know.)
By the time you get out of office, your hair has invariably turned several shades whiter and you have developed neuroses that channel themselves into some kind of expensive and misguided hobby (George W. Bush’s painting, George H.W. Bush’s sock-curating, Jimmy Carter’s traveling around to tell people that he is the “greatest living ex-president”). It’s small wonder that more presidents don’t instantly crack and start addressing everyone around them as “my lords and peacocks” or calling pillows “Prince Octavian,” something that actually happened to King George III. And that was before you had to respond to e-mails all the time!
At least Congress is only in session sometimes. If they want to stay up late to filibuster, that’s on them. But with the presidency, it’s the job.
I’m not saying that any of this is directly responsible for what’s happening now, but we do have the current president of the United States scuttling away from the White House twice in two weeks and telling the press corps that he’s a bear.
I know we give the president grief on his annual vacations, whether he likes to golf or split wood or ride horses, but — maybe he needs one.