“Good. Because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
After Barack Obama announced that Bill Daley was leaving his job as White House chief of staff to spend more time with his family, my colleague Karen Tumulty wrote that in all her years in Washington, she could think of only one person, George W. Bush adviser Karen Hughes, who’d said that and been believed.
But there have to have been others who forfeited position and power to spend more time playing “Ants in the Pants,” right? Here are a few who said they did:
1) Sen. Ben Nelson, the moderate Nebraskan who so often maddened his fellow Democrats, recently announced he won’t seek reelection for family reasons. But Nelson, who’s 70, was considered one of the most endangered members of the Senate — and also said just recently, “I have no plans to retire. No plans to retire. Zero.”
2) Michele Flournoy, 50, who’s soon leaving her job as the under secretary of defense for policy, is one of the most senior women civilians ever to serve at the Pentagon, with a portfolio that includes shaping our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan and assembling the team that’s planning our role there after combat troops leave at the end of 2014. She’s said she’s leaving in February to “rebalance” her life and spend more time with her three children: “Right now I need to recalibrate a little bit and invest a little bit more in the family account for a while. We’ve been going flat out for more than three years.” (Karen Hughes, you are no longer alone.)
3) Rep. Elton Gallegly, (R-CA) a big proponent of legislation that would allow states to refuse to educate undocumented immigrant children, announced earlier this month that he won’t be seeking a 14th term so that he and his wife Janice can spend more time with their four children, and with friends. But after redistricting, he would have had to run against a fellow Republican congressman and at least one strong Democratic challenger.
4) Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat and abortion-rights opponent who saved the health-care reform law by getting like-minded members to support it at the last possible minute, was rewarded with the outrage of both conservatives, who thought he’d caved, and liberals, who hated the executive order he got the president to sign, explicitly stating there was no abortion funding in the law. He didn’t run again in 2010, but told The Atlantic that relaxation around the home fires did not immediately follow, what with at least one death threat and being “bitch[ed] out” by angry people in airports.
5) Ron Bloom, Obama’s “car czar,” was similarly acclaimed after helping to save the auto industry.
6) After Cynthia Stroum, Obama’s ambassador to Luxembourg, stepped down for family reasons, a State Department report fully detailed the disaster of her year-long tenure; it not only said she’d accomplished nothing, but noted that she’d been seen by employees as “aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating.”
7) Obama economic adviser Christina Romer, who hightailed it back to UC-Berkeley in August of 2010, was also said to be leaving to honor family commitments. Her husband, economist David Romer, had been on leave from his job Berkeley and their son started high school that fall.
8) Obama’s chief domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes cited family when she recently left her job, as the Chicago Sun-Times put it, “at a time when President Barack Obama’s administration is getting little notice for its work on the home front to fix the struggling economy.”
9) Then there was Claude Allen, the George W. Bush White House staffer who was arrested for felony theft soon after announcing he was leaving to spend more time with his nearest and dearest.
Of course, there are men and women in all fields who do really walk away from coveted jobs for family reasons: all the world knows astronaut Mark Kelly is spending time with his wife, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in Tucson a year ago. Sandra Day O’Connor stepped down from the Supreme Court early to take care of her ill husband. And years ago, Anna Quindlen shocked New York Times readers when she walked away from her column for the paper.
But people who really do decide, as Quindlen put it, that you might be able to have it all, just not all at the same time, are undermined by the fibbers. When someone like Urban Meyer claims he’s leaving his coaching job at the University of Florida to clear the sched for more family time, then takes a $4 million-a-year coaching job with Ohio State, we naturally suspect maybe he’s not like that guy in “Cheaper by the Dozen,” who gave up his dream coaching job to spend more time with the home team.
I can’t say I understand why people trot out the family excuse when that’s not the real reason: first, it’s such a cliche it seems fishy even when it’s for real. And if you then take another big assignment, it’s such an insult to your family: Thank God, something better than spending more time with them came along!
Remember what happened when Campbell Brown broke with convention and spit out the truth? The announcment that she was stepping down as anchor of her CNN show in 2010 said, “I could have said I am stepping down to spend more time with my children (which I truly want to do). Or that I am leaving to pursue other opportunities (which I also truly want to do). But...the simple fact is that not enough people want to watch my program.” Not only did no one roll their eyes, but she rightly got a lot of credit for stating the obvious. Especially in a town and an economy in which people are up and then down all the time, more departing big dogs should follow her example; it might even help them find work
Melinda Henneberger is a political writer for the Washington Post and anchor of ‘She the People.’ Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.