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It’s August, So It Must Be Time To Complain About Presidential Vacations Again

Obama Golfing Marthas Vineyard
Dana Milbank lays into the President Obama for vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard while crises flare up around the world and at home:

Obama stood on the South Lawn on Saturday updating Americans on the new bombing campaign in Iraq — and then he boarded Marine One for a two-week trip to Martha’s Vineyard. There, half an hour after arriving at his vacation home, he was already on his way to a golf course. He played again Sunday, then had a beach outing Monday followed by a political fundraiser.

Even presidents need down time, and Obama can handle his commander-in-chief duties wherever he is. But his decision to proceed with his getaway just 36 hours after announcing the military action in Iraq risks fueling the impression that he is detached as the world burns.

The highly visible wartime vacation (Obama allowed himself to be photographed on a putting green Saturday with NBA star Ray Allen and retired pro-football player Ahmad Rashad) was not looking any better Monday as Iraq’s political crisis worsened, NATO’s chief declared a “high probability” of Russian military intervention in Ukraine and Gaza remained on a knife edge.

By Monday afternoon, the crises had forced Obama to revise his schedule. The White House announced that the president, after returning from the beach, would make an unscheduled statement about Iraq. He freshened up at his 8,100-square-foot vacation home, then stepped outside, in a blue blazer and open collar; his aides wisely chose a wooded backdrop rather than one with the infinity pool and the sweeping water views. Obama finished his four-minute statement and then hopped in his motorcade for the ride to a Democratic fundraiser.

Criticizing the President for going on vacation is an old Washington trope that has been a fact of life for our nation’s Chief Executive regardless of which party he belonged to. President Reagan sometimes got bad press for his long vacations at his ranch in California, George H.W. Bush would get it for his trips to Kennebunkport and the frequent video we would see of him out on his boat, Bill Clinton would get it for the trips that he and his family took to Martha’s Vineyard and other locations during the course of his Presidency, and George W. Bush got it for clearing brush in Crawford during the Iraq War. Usually these criticisms come from partisans of the opposing party, of course, but you also hear it on a regular basis from one member or another of the inside the beltway media, typically with a similar argument to the one Milbank makes here about how all of this reflects on the President’s “leadership.” Indeed, it is seemingly required that every year, under every President, some member of the elite press corps is required to write a column tut-tutting about the President daring to take time off while something or other is going on in the world. I guess this year it was Milbank’s turn.

Milbank’s Post colleague Chris Cillizza notes that, inside the beltway and partisan chatter aside, most Americans don’t really care if the President goes on vacation:

Conservative outrage aside — and remember that liberals reacted the same way to George W. Bush’s vacations on his Crawford, Texas ranch — there has not been any real blowback among the public about President Obama’s vacation plans in the past. Almost one year ago to the day, Fox News Channel conducted the only polling we could find on the topic of Obama’s vacations. The Fox sample split 48 percent to 48 percent on whether Obama had been “working hard to enough to deserve” an August vacation. By contrast, just 14 percent said Congress had worked hard enough to deserve a vacation while 82 percent said they had not.  In 2010, Fox asked whether people felt “resentful” of the number of vacations the Obamas were taking. Just one in five said they did.

As general rule, I find most of this criticism of Presidential vacations to be silly and pointless, and I don’t think that Milbank’s argument really advances us much beyond the people who rant on Twitter every weekend when President Obama golfs at Andrews Air Force Base. First of all, there’s the fact that the President is never really on vacation, everywhere he goes he is accompanied by a phalanx of aides and advisers, not to mention the guy who carries the nuclear football, he has instantaneous access t the most sophisticated and secure communications network on the planet, and he would be able to return to Washington, or go anywhere else in the world, at virtually a moment’s notice. Second, in this particular case while the President is in Martha’s Vineyard on the closest thing to a vacation a sitting President can enjoy, much of his national security team, including National Security Adviser Susan Rice, are in the area working on the crises that Milbank correctly points out that we need to be paying attention to right now. Even if the President isn’t sitting in the room with him, he has access to them on an as needed basis and is receiving briefings on a regular basis, just as would be happening if he were back in Washington. Finally, I have to wonder exactly what it is Milbank and the other critics would have Obama do in Washington that he can’t do in Martha’s Vineyard. Whether its in the Oval Office or anywhere else on the planet, the President’s job is basically the same. If he can do it while also getting some much needed rest and recreation in, then all of these people saying that he should be back in Washington are basically just arguing for symbolism over substance.

On some level, of course, President Obama does deserve criticism for his lack of leadership when it comes to foreign policy. I’ve talked about some of the reasons for that before, and even his former Secretary of State has criticized him recently. I also thought that his advisers didn’t serve him well on Saturday when they had him delivering a speech from the South Lawn with Marine One behind him ready to take him and the family off on vacation. Given that the had just announced American military action in Iraq, it was not the best visual. That, however, is a communications issue, not a leadership issue and it’s unrelated to the whole “vacation” meme that Milbank talks about in his column.  Let the President take his vacation.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    Can we just make it a rule that this President–and all future Presidents–schedule their vacations when there is nothing else of importance going on in the world?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 2

  2. anjin-san says:

    Black man plays golf, world to end Friday. Stay tuned.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 23 Thumb down 9

  3. Eric Florack says:

    Headline from a few years back…

    George Bush Plays Golf… world to end yesterday.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 18

  4. Tillman says:

    No such thing as presidential vacation. The Sword of Damocles continues to hang above the head wherever you go.

    I remember being uptight about presidential vacations under Bush, but I believe it was tied into how much I hated Gulf War 2 rather than “the president doesn’t deserve a vacation, he’s got too much work to do.” I love how the question in that Fox poll is worded.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  5. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    Still seeking that oh so elusive clever quip, eh?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  6. CSK says:

    Whoever the president is, he (someday she) is always working. It’s just a change of venue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  7. Bokonon says:

    There is a line somewhere. I can see the sheer amount of time that W. spent away from Washington DC being a genuine issue – since W. was absent from Washington DC for very long amounts of time, more than any of his predecessors, and he did this the middle of not just one but two military engagements. Cutting brush in Crawford and riding his mountain bike, we were told. I think that history shows us that it wasn’t just visuals – there was genuine disengagement.

    But in the case of those Fox News questions that Doug cites, the criticisms of whether Obama “deserves” a vacation at all are something else. That’s just a cost-free political cheap shot, and an opportunity for some fake populism that the GOP and its media allies use over and over again (usually in connection with criticizing the cost to the taxpayers of bringing along the Secret Service, performing all the security, calling the President “lazy”, and so on).

    And there is also a payback element for the things the Democrats said about W …

    But most of all, I think that this is part of the GOP’s strategy to turn EVERYTHING that President Obama does into a controversy and a problem, as well as being a political opportunity for themselves.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 3

  8. J-Dub says:

    I see they gave him cart #44. That must be some kind of jab, giving him GW Bush’s cart.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. J-Dub says:

    I wonder if he is allowed to drive the golf cart.

    I assume the Secret Service would never let him play with Charles Barkley. That could be life threatening.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. al-Ameda says:

    I have no problem with presidential vacations – except for those where they play golf. To me, Golf is like NASCAR – if I want to relax and nod off all I need to do is watch golf or NASCAR.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. george says:

    This seems to be one of those cases where ‘false’ equivalences are in fact true – there is a tendency for both sides (at least in the last two elections) to complain about presidential vacation time. It might have gone on before too, though the only one that comes to mind is reading old comments about the amount of time Eisenhower spent on the links.

    In any case, its nonsense in all cases anyway. As CSK says, its just a change in venue in any case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. C. Clavin says:

    I’m on vacation next week.
    As I was 3 weeks ago, as well.
    Americans don’t take enough vacations.
    That includes mindless pundits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  13. Tyrell says:

    President Eisenhower practically lived at the golf course. While there was some criticism, it is well known that Ike conducted a lot of business on the greens and in the club house. Of course, some of the foreign powers were afraid to mess with the “architect of DDay”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  14. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Tyrell:

    I was just reading a biography of Eisenhower and was thinking the same thought–indeed, perhaps we should be asking our leaders to spend more time on the golf course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  15. grumpy realist says:

    For some reason this thread makes me wanna post this story about a chicken crossing the road

    I guess they can both be classified under “because it’s August.”

    (The other day I had the fun of navigating a stretch of pavement where roughly 50 Canadian geese decided it was time to go from Pond A (on the right side of the road) to Pond B (on the left side of the road.) I had been wondering why traffic was a wee bit slow….It was “Make Way For Ducklings” on steroids.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san:
    Oh, I think my point was made well enough.
    You must think so, too?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  17. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san:
    Oh, I think my point was made well enough.
    You must think so, too?

    By the way… anyone read Dana Milbank’s column?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  18. Just Me says:

    In an age where technology keeps everyone in touch, who really cares if the president is on vacation he can do anything he needs from anywhere he happens to be-his advisors don’t even have to be with him-conference calls are pretty easy to set up.

    I thought it was dumb when the left complained about Bush going to his ranch and it’s dumb when the right complains about Obama going on vacation.

    I think there is room for criticism when it comes to taxpayer money spent on vacations-but even then I hardly think we should lock the president in the White House and ban vacations for the next 4-8 years. Everyone needs some down time and it would be nice if both sides of the aisle recognized this.

    This is just an attempt for one side to try to score points against the party in the White House.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. Tony W says:

    Have to agree with george here – this is a legitimate “both sides do it”.

    Either way, it is an admission at some level, however, that arguments of substance have not succeeded.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Grewgills says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    When would that be?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. al-Ameda says:

    @Eric Florack:

    By the way… anyone read Dana Milbank’s column?

    Literate people do, why do you ask?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  22. stonetools says:

    In an age where technology keeps everyone in touch, who really cares if the president is on vacation he can do anything he needs from anywhere he happens to be-his advisors don’t even have to be with him-conference calls are pretty easy to set up.

    Yeah, Dana must still be living in 1979. Absent nuclear war, the President can be contacted 24/7/365 and you can even do video conferences if necessary. Maybe Dana needs to Google “Skype”, “Face Time”, “smartphone”, and other such esoteric terms since apparently, he’s never heard of them. But then, has he heard of “Google”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  23. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    Oh, I think my point was made well enough.

    If your point is that you are a guy who is not aware that he is not clever or funny, sure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  24. Just Me says:

    Oh one area of criticism with regard to presidential travel in general is the cost to local areas they visit. Roads get shut down, and makes routine anything but routine but that’s a local thing but I would certainly hate having the president visit my home town for a vacation (something that is unlikely where I live). Security being what it is now for the president a visit can turn things upside down for a while and that might cause locals some aggravation).

    But vacations themselves are nice to have and likenI said there really is no such thing as the president being off the grid while vacationing. Technology allows him to do anything anywhere he goes-he can take his office with him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. Janis Gore says:

    @grumpy realist: Why they do that? I saw a quail with a brood of little ones trying to cross the road on the way to Jackson. That’s 55. It’s a truckers’ route. Nobody goes less than 70. All night and all day long. Both sides of the road look the same to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Grewgills says:

    @Just Me:
    It’s a relatively minor inconvenience when he comes here a few times a year. The freeway can be blocked off for a short time and access to parts of Kailua are limited, but most times he comes and goes without most of us here noticing.
    When he wants to go to Hanauma Bay he always goes on a Tuesday when it is closed to the public anyway.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Jeremy R says:
  28. Eric Florack says:

    @al-Ameda: apparently, you havent, or youd KNOW why.

    some of you have pointed out that given technology where Obama goes doesnt matter much Its a fair point, but it was no less fair when the usual suspects were bitching up a storm about Bush going to the golf course. as ive already pointed out..and there been no answer on it.

    another issue is the costs involved.

    and finally, theres the issue what what message is being sent, here. The optics and all that. Obama is the most vacationed president in our history. Time spent aside, theres the money angle. So far, the Obamas have spent over 44 million USD on vacation travel. Kinda hard to convince ‘the little people’ youre on their side when spending that amount of their money to pamper yourself.
    Ive not seen the usual suspects even come close to answering that one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Obama is the most vacationed president in our history.

    Are you a liar? Or just ignorant? Probably both. This has some handy dandy charts** for you. I suspect you are as math challenged as you are google challenged.

    ** to the same point in time in their presidencies. I really don’t care much one way or the other, but outright blatant untruths such as you are peddling need to be corrected.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  30. Tillman says:

    @Just Me: Hate when the president comes around here. It’s impossible to get anywhere because the main roads are blocked off, and the beltline is choked with people avoiding the main roads.

    Thankfully he doesn’t come around often. I only remember one visit that was bad for traffic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Another Mike says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    This has some handy dandy charts** for you.

    Bush spent 335 days working from his home in Crawford and 26 days working from his home in Kennebunkport, plus he gave up golf in August 2003, as the article mentioned. I suppose people have different perspectives of what a vacation is, and Obama’s vacations come closer to many people’s concept of what a vacation is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  32. grumpy realist says:

    @Janis Gore: Ah, but according to quail-philosophy it is obvious that Side 1 is the Dark, Negation Side, while the other is the Light, Life-Affirming Side. The fact that you can’t see this just proves your inability to master quail-enlighteness.

    (Gee, birds are Zoroastrians. Never would have thought that.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. beth says:

    @Another Mike: Seriously? You were able to type that crap with a straight face?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. bandit says:

    @anjin-san: Wow – talk about a lack of self awareness

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  35. al-Ameda says:

    @Eric Florack:
    @al-Ameda: apparently, you havent, or youd KNOW why.

    some of you have pointed out that given technology where Obama goes doesnt matter much Its a fair point, but it was no less fair when the usual suspects were bitching up a storm about Bush going to the golf course. as ive already pointed out..and there been no answer on it.

    another issue is the costs involved.

    and finally, theres the issue what what message is being sent, here. The optics and all that. Obama is the most vacationed president in our history. Time spent aside, theres the money angle. So far, the Obamas have spent over 44 million USD on vacation travel. Kinda hard to convince ‘the little people’ youre on their side when spending that amount of their money to pamper yourself.
    Ive not seen the usual suspects even come close to answering that one.

    Oh sure, I remember how concerned you (and many of the usual conservative suspects) were when every other president prior to Obama took vacations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  36. anjin-san says:

    Obama is the most vacationed president in our history

    Another day, another bald faced lie from Florack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  37. anjin-san says:

    Bush Takes Monthlong Texas Vacation
    W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 3
    By Carter M. Yang
    For the next 30 days, it will be home on the ranch for President Bush.

    With his administration 6 months old, Bush is set to shed the confines of the White House and head to his sprawling ranch in Crawford, Texas, to begin a monthlong, outside-the-Beltway retreat.

    “I’m headed home to the heartland to listen to the American people and to talk about the values that unite and sustain our country,” Bush said in a Rose Garden speech this afternoon.

    ‘A Little Fishing, … A Little Policy’

    White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters the chief executive was also looking forward to “enjoying a little down time, a little running and a little cedar clearing.”

    “He’ll do a little fishing on the ranch, I’m sure he’ll have friends and family over to the ranch, he’ll do a little policy, he’ll keep up with events,” Fleischer added.

    Why is the commander in chief spending four weeks in a small central Texas town outside Waco?

    “I think it is so important for a president to spend some time away from Washington,” he told the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree last week.

    Since taking office 196 days ago, Bush has spent plenty of leisurely days away from Washington, including 23 at his Crawford ranch, 36 at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland and a four-day weekend at his family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

    Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater says Bush showed the same affection for vacations when he was governor of Texas.

    George Bush was religious about wanting to take time off,” said Slater.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  38. Another Mike says:

    @beth:

    Seriously? You were able to type that crap with a straight face?

    Huh? Bush stopped golfing in August 2003. It’s for real. And Bush cannot work from home, but Obama can work from the golf course? And I doubt many people see Crawford, Texas as a resort area comparable to the beaches of Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard?

    I’m not really complaining myself, because I don’t see any difference, but this French fellow, Fabius, seems to have a beef. “I know it is the holiday period in our Western countries, but when people are dying, you must come back from vacation.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  39. Deserttrek says:

    young barry said he was different ….. he and all those on the left hated Bush playing golf and said so, but barry gets a pass? barry was going to cut spending , fix the weather and bring people together ….. while he goes on vacations, while his wife goes on vacations and while the rest of us pay for it and the world crumbles ….. no leftists .. barry belongs in dc watching tv, playing cards and smoking his bong

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  40. anjin-san says:

    @Deserttrek

    young barry said he was different

    When did he say he did not like sports and would not take time off? Please be specific.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  41. anjin-san says:

    @ Another Mike

    Bush cannot work from home,

    Please. Bush’s rather anemic work ethic is the stuff of legend.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  42. al-Ameda says:

    @Deserttrek:

    young barry said he was different

    Who is “young barry”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  43. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    Kinda hard to convince ‘the little people’ youre on their side when spending that amount of their money to pamper yourself.

    Bush took what, 80 odd Trips to Crawford? 250K just for Air Force One each time. And we have not even covered Laura Bush’s many excursions to Africa.

    The Presidency costs money, regardless of who is in office. The actual record shows that the ODS obsession with Obama’s vacations is something with great appeal to the gullible and weak minded. Cue Eric Florack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0