THE BLOG
07/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Finally, Barack Obama Has Time for "Date Nights" -- and Golf

The consensus of the commentariat is how wonderful that our new Commander in Chief of all things foreign and domestic could find the time to take his wife on a first-rate night on the town, or, more accurately, night out of town.

I posted that the "date night" -- dinner at a trendy restaurant in Greenwich Village followed by a Broadway show -- was no sweat; all he had to do was hatch the plan, communicate it to staffers, and show up with Michelle in a black cocktail dress, sans overnight bag, on his arm on the South Lawn of the White House. Air Force One and Marine One and Limo One would be mobilized to get them there and back to the White House for a good night's sleep.

Maureen Dowd returns to the New York Times after three weeks away -- she has weathered weak charges of plagiarism -- with her take on the date. She pronounces it a good thing not only for the First Couple but for the country as well. On her list of approved recreation for President Obama is "golf outings in DC."

When I was writing a profile of Michelle for Chicago magazine, I interviewed Dan Shomon, Obama's chief of staff in Springfield and a key campaign aide through his run in 2004 for the U.S. Senate. Shomon described for me the tensions in the Michelle/Barack marriage.

To Michelle, her husband's serving as a state senator in Springfield was little more than a selfish indulgence. "She still didn't really understand why he was not at a law firm, where he could be making $700,000 or $800,000 a year or a million or two," Shomon says, "and why he was lowering himself to the decorum of the state legislature."

Shomon told me that Michelle asked Barack to stop playing basketball because he was getting injured. She suggested that he take up golf, and, Shomon adds, he "turned into a great golfer because he's a really good athlete....He's very fluid and he's graceful."

When a farmer in southern Illinois invited the rookie state senator to see his farm, Shomon recalls, they agreed to go there together and to combine it with some golf. "There was a big golf outing down there, so he checked with Michelle [then pregnant with Malia], and Michelle said, `Yeah, you can go because you're not going to get to do this again....You go have your fun and then that's it.'"

After Malia was born, Michelle would have liked to stay home, but the family needed her salary. Barack was downstate three days a week and still teaching law at the University of Chicago. He was also, against Michelle's wishes, finding time to play basketball.

Michelle was stuck with child care and she noticed, as she told a reporter for Ebony, "I was trying to figure out why he is getting in his exercise and I'm putting on weight." Michelle, an inveterate list maker -- a Newsweek reporter who visited their house in 2004 noticed that one item on the list she compiled for her daughters was "play" -- dealt with the feeling of being out of control by making to-do lists for her husband. As Shomon remembers them, "'OK, Barack, you're going to do grocery shopping two times a week. You're to pick up Malia. You're going to do blah, blah, blah, and you're responsible for blah, blah, blah.'"

Golf was not on the list, and Shomon told me that Obama, on his own, without prompting from Michelle, gave it up because it consumed too much time.

Now if Obama plays golf it's carved into his schedule, just as is his attendance at his daughters' soccer games. He's still home for dinner with his family.

And what has happened to those games of basketball that became famous during the campaign? With some of his old sparring partners -- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for instance -- now ensconced in Washington, it wouldn't be hard to get a game together.

Perhaps Obama is finally heeding Michelle's warning about getting injured. Perhaps he no longer needs the warning because being in office has already aged him enough to make him satisfied with the low-impact -- and very presidential -- game of golf.