“Good. Because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
— Vito Corleone
After President Obama announced that Bill Daley was leaving his job as White House chief of staff to spend more time with his family, my Washington Post 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 had to have been others who’d forfeited position and power to spend more time hanging out at home, right? Here are a few who’ve said they did:
1. Sen. Ben Nelson, the moderate Nebraskan who often maddened his fellow Democrats, recently announced that 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 No. 3 person at the Pentagon, is one of the most senior female civilians ever to serve there, 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.”
3. Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., a big proponent of legislation that would allow states to refuse to educate undocumented immigrant children, announced this month that he won’t be seeking a 14th term in a race that, after redistricting, would have pitted him against a fellow Republican and at least one strong Democrat.
4. Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat and opponent of abortion rights who saved the health care reform law by getting like-minded members to support it, was rewarded with the outrage of both sides and didn’t run again. A year later, he told the Atlantic that relaxation around the home fires had not immediately followed, what with at least one death threat and being harangued 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 and said she’d been seen by employees as “aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating.”
7. Obama economic adviser Christina Romer, who high-tailed it back to the University of California at Berkeley in August 2010, was also said to be leaving to honor family commitments. Her husband, economist David Romer, had been on leave from his job at 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 homefront 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 family.
So that’s at least a couple more who convincingly pinned departures on kids and/or spouses.
Of course, there are men and women in all fields who do really walk away from coveted jobs for family reasons. The world knows astronaut Mark Kelly is spending time with his wife, Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz. Sandra Day O’Connor stepped down from the Supreme Court early to take care of her ill husband. And years ago, Anna Quinlen shocked readers when she walked away from her New York Times column, well before she knew she’d become a best-selling novelist.
But people who really do put family first are undermined by all the fibbers. When someone like Urban Meyer says he’s leaving his coaching job at the University of Florida to be a family guy and then takes a $4 million-a-year coaching job with Ohio State, we naturally begin to suspect he’s not like the Steve Martin character 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 ever 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 not. And when you then take another big job, it’s such an insult to your family: Thank God, something better than spending more time with them came along!
Henneberger writes the She the People blog at washingtonpost.com.