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Sleepless in the West Wing

In the midst of all the things going on in this world, it is not surprising to learn that people employed in the White House's west wing work long hours and do not get enough sleep.

Our Readers Who Comment have found Michael D. Shear's exposition on this subject alarming but not surprising. They worry that exhausted bodies and minds produce bad decisions, not just in the White House but on Wall Street, in hospitals, etc.

Some observe, accurately, that this is a reality every administration has faced regardless of party. Those of the Republican persuasion complain that all this effort is devoted to turning us into a godless Socialist state, with significant help from the MSM.

We'll start with CJackson36, who intelligently wrote, "We have developed a class of people in this country who work flat out when the stakes are high. They're not just in the White House but on Wall Street and in corporate life. I'm delighted that Obama and his people are dedicated to setting this country on a better track in so many ways, but I wish they'd take better care of themselves so there's some reserve when the inevitable crises hit. This will happen only if the president gives the signal."

reval said, "I wonder how much of this driven behavior reflects the media's obsession to fill a 24-hour news cycle. Obama's unsustainable attempt to reshape health care, education, energy and also conduct two wars may satisfy the media demands for news. But it eventually will be a killer for his staff and the changes they desire. Balls will be dropped, unfortunate and wrong decisions will result."

barretmb wrote, "This is why I will not choose Washington, D.C. as my permanent "settled" home. The "work is life" culture that emanates from the West Wing permeates the rest of the city's employers (or at least, a great deal of them), making pursuit of a true work-life balance a joke... This kind of schedule is just not healthy - physically or psychologically - for anyone..."

OldDoc said, "...Too little continuous sleep time not infrequently results in bad or risky decisions. And the percentage of bad, poor, or suboptimal decisions made during sleep loss states increases as one gets older... Even if one disagrees with the president's policies, odds are the whatever decisions are made, and policies set up, will be better for the country if they are made by persons in full possession of their faculties. USA be warned!"

Canton55 wrote, "Thoreau said something along these lines: we are desperate men leading quiet lives of desperation. Our lives are mostly lived out as players in some bizarre theater of the absurd. This is just another example. I imagine as long as these people can fool themselves that any of it matters, they can at compromise their health and sanity with a clear purpose."

KarenLS said, "No matter who the president is the staffs all work like this. We read about it all the time. I think it is crazy though because it results in a turnover that is not good for a president or the country... If a staff position is so critical then split it into two. Have one person do an early morning shift and the other one do a late shift with a two hour overlap. And enforce the times...."

brendan_holleran asked, "Does it make sense that the people who are formulating policy that may affect the lives of millions are almost walking zombies ?"

3108frank said, "In their frantic pace to destroy the country with the help of the MSM they should achieve their goal before the end of Obamas first term."

ihatethepost1 added, "In the interest of ethics in journalism, I think WaPo(s) staff writers need to begin adding the qualifier "Rahm Emannuel contributed to this article" at the bottom of their articles."

ronjaboy wrote, "Obama and the staffers are working for the Left, which is, by definition, anti-American. They're working for European socialism and not for American free enterprise. They're working to create a culture of government dependency, not individual self-reliance."

jwkopp2004 said, "And we all know that a lack of sleep keeps people sharp and able to make good, rational decisions. With a dedicated agenda to turn us into Europe their sleep deprivation will cause even more problems."

Socialistic wrote, "Handing out billions and trillions to connected friends in failed companies would make me groggy also, after doing it all day..."

SwellLevel5 said, "The sad aspect about this story is that the only thing a human body can really do consistently when worked this hard is make mistakes. I would recommend that all these "Heroes Of The Universe" slow down their pace somewhat and not try to save the world in six months. Trust us, kids, we will survive."

We'll close with spamagnet987, who wrote, "George C. Marshall managed to run World War II and left the office every day at 4:00 p.m. Unlike the Obama administration, he knew how to prioritize and delegate. With Obama, everything is a priority -- and as I learned long ago, when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority."

All comments on this article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  July 13, 2009; 8:04 AM ET
 | Tags: Obama, Sleep, West Wing, White House  
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Next: Surtax the Rich, Stir up the Readers


It is interesting to read the tone of the comments on this article--quite a bit of abuse for government, for "whiners," for corporate greed, most of it essentially off-topic--not about proper sleep or fitness for work, but shoe-horning ideologically pre-fabricated arguments into a discussion about an issue that affects how decisions are made in the highest offices of the U.S. government.

Can it be that we are all cranky with lack of sleep, and prone to abusing others for a situation we cannot explain without recourse to place-holders like "turning the United States into Europe" and "the death of the country?" If so, maybe we have a collective excuse for our poor treatment of each other.

To the article's point: Even machines break down if you run them 60/60/24/7/365, as people expect of each other. We live a culture that trumpets "multitasking" (IOW tolerance for senselessly timed distractions), and a hundred other exaggerations of personal capability that don't add up to sound decision-making or thoughtfulness. Some people can sustain this pace, and sleep little--but they are rare--and they'll break down, too, without proper diet, exercise, and rest interlaced with periods of intense effort.

The funny thing about the commentary on this article is that we can all hector each other and yell and trade epithets instead of thoughts, until we each break down from the strain of the pure foolishness of our treatment of each other, and collectively fall apart as the connective tissue of social etiquette sloughs away. It's like some kind of cultural Ebola. The problem isn't "government"--it's us, and our fitness to perform competently as citizens, not to mention as fellow human beings.

Sleep on that.

Posted by: Virtualist1 | July 14, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Well if they are up all night and the quality of their efforts are as wretched as they seem. I feel that perhaps there should be drug testing. No doubt there will be more than a few of the administration, from 'DearLeader' on down that might test positive.... Oh, and F.Y.I. this is the same narrative 'clap-trap' (They Work So Hard!...) that we were fed by the worm-tongues' of the Media during the Clinton years. It's no wonder many today feel that the 4th Estate has broken it's covenant with us, and has now debased itself for the current role of a wretched & servile 'Obamedia'

Posted by: mbs1960 | July 13, 2009 10:59 PM | Report abuse

27 minutes ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a year of eye-popping numbers, add one more: The government's annual budget deficit has topped $1 trillion.
And with three months left in the budget year, it will actually get even worse. The administration is projecting that the deficit will hit $1.84 trillion for the current budget year, four times the size of last year's deficit. Last year's number was the all-time leader at the time, at $454.8 billion — a figure that now seems rather puny in comparison.

Posted by: mharwick | July 13, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

We'll start with CJackson36, who intelligently wrote, "We have developed a class of people in this country who work flat out when the stakes are high.

Excuse me? Wall Street?????

You mean the money-grubbing prostitutes like Goldman Sachs who have corrupted and bankrupted our nation?????

Are you serious??????

God, I would hope for our parents and grandparents' "Greatest Generation" who fought WWII and developed a huge middle class.

God help us if these are not actually just greedy folks and they are "intelligent."

I see self interested politically correct drones, not the type of people we want in government.

And the whiny tone proves it.

Get out of government.

Find some Marines or roughnecks or high school teachers who have brains, a real work ethic, and COMMON SENSE.

Goldman Sachs, Obama, Axelrod, and Emanuel are the death of our country.

Posted by: mj777nnnntgggg1 | July 13, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

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