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Michelle Obama Vacation Scandal

Keith Koffler, proprietor of “the only 24/7, independent, and totally unauthorized White House blog,” has unearthed a scandal: Michelle Obama takes a lot of vacation.

First Lady Michelle Obama over the last year has spent a total of 42 days on vacation, or a little more than one out of every nine days, according to a White House Dossier analysis of her travel.

Her vacations, the cost of which are mostly borne by taxpayers, include trips to Panama City, Fla., Martha’s Vineyard, Hawaii, South Africa, Latin America, Vail, Colo., and her visit this week to her brother in Corvallis, Ore.

The total does not include a nine day sojourn in Martha’s Vineyard that the Obamas will enjoy this month. Nor does it include a trip she made to Ireland and Great Britain in May, which I’m counting as official travel.

The total vacation time would have been slightly higher had the Obamas gone as planned for an April weekend in Williamsburg, Va. The trip was cancelled due to an extended stalemate between President Obama and Congress over the budget.

Honestly, I’m not sure how she finds time to do her job! Oh, wait: She doesn’t have a job.

Additionally, Koffler is attributing anything that might conceivably be pleasurable as “vacation.”

Mrs. Obama’s vacations began in August 2010 with a two day weekend trip to Panama City, Fla., where the Obamas stayed overnight at a Gulf of Mexico hotel in a symbolic effort to show that the Gulf area was safe for travel in the wake of the disastrous BP oil spill.

[...]

In December 2010, with President Obama delayed because Congress was still in town, Mrs. Obama decided to leave without him for their annual Hawaiian vacation, racking up at least $63,000 in additional costs because she travelled alone. Since the president arrived late, he decided to leave Hawaii in January two days later than scheduled – resulting in a 17 day vacation for the first lady.

[...]

In March, Mrs. Obama travelled to Latin America for a five day trip. I’m counting two days of this as vacation, though, because she took her children and her mother along, performed some sightseeing, and went to the beach.

The first lady went to southern Africa in June for six days in what was partially an official visit. Since Mrs. Obama took her mother, her children and their cousins along, since the trip was billed in advance as having personal significance for her, and since the travel included several tourist destinations and a safari, I’m counting half of the journey as vacation, or three days.

It’s pretty standard for first ladies to accompany their husbands on trips. And it’s not exactly unheard of for them to incorporate some fun into the process (to the extent one can have fun constantly followed around by the Secret Service and a gaggle of reporters).

So, what’s the problem?

Presumably, Koffler’s complaint is this:

Taxpayers pick up most of the cost of transporting the first lady and her extensive entourage – including Secret Service and her staff – to her various destinations. While she may in some cases pay some of the tab for her personal expenses and travel, the amount is dwarfed by the overall cost to the public.

But I’m not sure we should blame Michelle Obama for this. Her husband is president and, by virtue of that, she and her daughters are high value targets for various nutbags. So, everywhere they go, they’re transported in the most expensive way possible and preceded, accompanied, and followed by some of the world’s most elite security forces. That it’s incrementally cheaper to protect her in DC than in Hawaii or Vail is perhaps something the Obama’s should keep in mind; but surely it shouldn’t be the driving force behind their actions.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I say we dock her (nonexistent) salary.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 2

  2. just me says:

    I chalk this up with the various criticism of Bush about vacations. She isn’t even elected to anything so it isn’t like she has to stay close to the phone or anything.

    I think there is probably some beef though about the cost for the secret service to cover the security for the various outings with regards to the current state of the economy.

    When people are struggling to make ends meet, losing their jobs and watching their investments tank once again-it just doesn’t look good to be jaunting all over the place with the taxpayer contributing a huge chunk of money towards the jaunting.

    But I don’t think this complaint is really about the money but the time which makes it a bad one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    Isn’t there a point where the permanently outraged no longer have the energy for it? This sort of thing has become a daily ritual. Surely there must come a time when these people become psychically exhausted.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 7

  4. KansasMom says:

    Anything short of holing up in the WH is going to cost money. What kind of boost does a first family visit bring to a restaurant or a hotel I wonder? I suspect the owners of the places they visit enjoy the publicity, even if if the actual visit itself is crazy and hectic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  5. Her husband is president and, by virtue of that, she and her daughters are high value targets for various nutbags. So, everywhere they go, they’re transported in the most expensive way possible and preceded, accompanied, and followed by some of the world’s most elite security forces.

    Which is why it behooves them to keep the taxpayers in mind and avoid unecessary travel and expense for the four-eight years they’re in that position. While the current state is not something I find outrageous, the idea they should go wherever they like as often as they like regardless of the expense doesn’t seem right either. They will have plenty of time to travel once Obama’s presidency finishes. If they can’t deal with some restrictions until then, well then maybe they shouldn’t have signed up for the job.

    That said, it should be notice that Obama has been away from the White House less often then either of the Bushes or Reagan (although he has been away more than Clinton or Carter), so a lot of the criticism of this over the Right seems disingenuous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 5

  6. Laurie says:

    This story will soon be spread to millions of people through email chains. Based on my own reaction to it I’d rate it as a pretty effective attack. I am generally a supporter/defender of the Obama’s, but travel to 3 continents plus 5 other trips in a year’s time seems excessive. As someone trying to decide if I can afford a weekend camping trip (a kid starting college has me feeling extra broke) I am resentful and think many others will be as well. I don’t object to the high costs of the security, which seem like less than a drop in a $3 trillion dollar budget.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 9

  7. Ben Wolf says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I’ll be honest with you: I’d take trip after trip too, and I wouldn’t give a damn if it cost the taxpayers. From what I’ve seen the White House is effectively a prison for the president’s family. They can never again go anywhere alone, even long after they’ve moved out of it. I don’t blame Michelle one bit.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 25

  8. Davebo says:

    They will have plenty of time to travel once Obama’s presidency finishes.

    And they’ll still have significant Secret Service protection requirements.

    Making that a rather silly assertion. I once ran across Barbra Bush at a garden center and she had at least three guards (that I could see). Perhaps she shouldn’t garden!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 6

  9. KansasMom says:

    @Stormy Dragon: They don’t go wherever they want whenever they want. Hell she can’t even go to the grocery store or shopping with her daughters. The Bush daughters were college students and I don’t recall anyone claiming they should just hang out in their dorm rooms because of security expenses. Every trip Jenna took to 6th St. cost the taxpayers a few thousand dollars. It’s ridiculous to begrudge the first family what little bit of normal life they get to have, regardless of the cost.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 12

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Laurie:

    As someone trying to decide if I can afford a weekend camping trip (a kid starting college has me feeling extra broke) I am resentful and think many others will be as well.

    As someone who has been underemployed for over a year, I save my resentment for the a**holes who put us into this economic situation and got rich doing it.

    In March, Mrs. Obama travelled to Latin America for a five day trip. I’m counting two days of this as vacation, though, because she took her children and her mother along, performed some sightseeing, and went to the beach.

    If Michelle Obama takes her family along on trips around the world where she conducts official business so that her daughters can see parts of the world that I, in all likelihood, can only dream of seeing, and spends a couple extra days with them there, I say good for her.

    Anything else would be pure stupidity.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 17

  11. superluminar says:

    Was there any point to this post? Because I’m struggling to find one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  12. Did any of you actually bother to read my comment before you reflexively jumped in to defend? I specifically said I don’t think the current level of travel by the Obamas is excessive. I was only arguing against JJ’s seeming assertion that it could never be excessive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  13. Catfish says:

    This whole thing of flitting around the country and world in AF 1 needs to stop. This goes for congressional junkets also, which are probably a lot more costly than the president’s trips.
    Let them fly commercial , take a “green” bus, or the train if they want to go somewhere.
    I can’t hardly afford to go to the local theme park for a day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  14. JKB says:

    The security detail is just a fact of life. But if she’s on vacation, why the staff? With no job, on vacation, why does she have her personal assistant or chief of staff with her?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  15. just me says:

    Well I don’t think we can safely ask the president and his family to fly coach or commercial. Also because of rules the first family can’t say “hey we forgo the secret service protection while we take our vacation to XXX” so some of the expense can’t be controlled on their part.

    But I do think think there is a line between taking some time off and exploring the world with your family and taking multiple vacations to various places in the world without a concern for the cost to the taxpayers.

    At some point it becomes excessive and starts to have a “let them eat cake” feel to it. I am not sure that it has hit that point for me just yet, but if the economy continues to tank and the budget continues to be an issue along with high debt-that line is going to come sooner rather than later.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  16. michael reynolds says:

    @Catfish:
    There are thousands of potential wackos out there who would love a clear shot at this family. When you start getting death threats, and when your kidnapping could paralyze the presidency, then your life will in some way be analogous to theirs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    Her staff includes the people who prepare her path through the world. The First Lady can’t just show up at a mall to buy earrings. Everywhere she goes it disrupts the world as she’s pursued by media. Her travel arrangements will necessarily be incredibly complicated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

  18. della street says:

    @KansasMom:
    If they wanted a normal life they should have stayed in Chicago. And what’s ‘normal’ about so much frivolous travel, when most Americans are suffering ?
    They didn’t take loads of fancy vacations when he was a Senator, so lavish trips are far from ‘normal’ for them. I guess the President’s salary is only a fraction of his ‘pay.’

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 7

  19. Catfish says:

    @michael reynolds: ok, but do they have to take two 747′s on each trip? One is for the pres and his staff + secret service + congress + reporters. The second is for more press and congress.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  20. KansasMom says:

    @della street: Visiting family during your kids summer vacation is pretty normal in my book. Spending Christmas with family is also normal to most people. College kids hitting the bars on the weekends is pretty normal in the college town I’m from.

    Do you honestly think the full time security set up that would be required if Michelle in the kids lived in Chicago full time, not to mention the additional travel expenses that would entail, would be less than what it cost to cover them on some trips?

    And sorry, but first family travel is rarely frivolous. Even if it is not official state business, the First Lady of the United States of America visiting your country, state, town or business brings prestige and likely increased revenue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 13

  21. MM says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    They will have plenty of time to travel once Obama’s presidency finishes. If they can’t deal with some restrictions until then, well then maybe they shouldn’t have signed up for the job

    And for 10 years they will still be accompanied by SS agents .everywhere they go, at which point you and the other people in this thread who are pretending outrage will continue to bemoan their lavish lifestyle. And spare me your weak defense. Your post was a perfect example of the “I’m not sayin’ this is bad, I’m just sayin’ it’s probably bad”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  22. MM says:

    @Catfish:

    I can’t hardly afford to go to the local theme park for a day.

    Someone needs a second job at a boot strap factory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

  23. Nikki says:

    Yeah, those Bush twins should’ve stayed out of the bars in Georgetown, wouldn’t you agree?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 6

  24. Paul says:

    Oh, for gawd’s sake.
    The problem with these reports is that they don’t track her “staycations,” play dates with her children, long lunches, extensive water cooler breaks, and days she’s just decided to sleep in.

    There’s so many more things to focus on than the amount of time off one takes. It’s what they do during their time in that counts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  25. An Interested Party says:

    I chalk this up with the various criticism of Bush about vacations.

    Umm, except no one was complaining about what Laura did…it figures that people who consider this an outrage can’t even think logically…

    There’s so many more things to focus on than the amount of time off one takes.

    Time off from what? It’s one thing to bitch about a president taking too many vacations, but the president’s wife? Ahh, the desperation of some people to clutch at any “scandal”…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

  26. anjin-san says:

    @della street

    when most Americans are suffering ?

    How did you feel about Sarah Palin charging 75k plus expenses to speak at Cal State Stanislaus a while back? When so many Americans have had to abandon the dream of a quality education for their children, why can’t someone who is a multi-millionaire speak for a nominal fee instead of being focused on lining her pockets? Or is your ability to be outraged limited to people named Obama?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

  27. Disgusted says:

    Poor baby Michelle Antoinette is bored and needs vaycays! Let her stay at the White House because her fun trips are costing the taxpayers a lot lof money. She isn’t elected to anything and doesn’t have to go anywhere. Enjoy the mansion that Americans built and maintain for our President and spouse — it’s better living than most people will even glimpse in their lifetime.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 8

  28. della street says:

    @KansasMom: Of course, some activities are ‘normal’ to all of us. My point about staying in Chicago was referring to not running for President at all.
    They kept saying they wanted their kids to have a ‘normal’ life. Normal would have been staying in the life they had. The WH is the opposite of normal. All parents have had to make choices, and even defer certain ambitions.They could have done the same.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 5

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @Disgusted:
    In other words, even though we hired your husband and not you, do what we say.

    It’s funny, because I also didn’t elect you and I don’t pay you, so maybe you should do what I say.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  30. KansasMom says:

    These are some seriously uppity people! How dare he run for office, get elected and then expect his family to get the same level of security that every other first family has been afforded.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 10

  31. catfish says:

    @MM: It’s not the price of admission. It’s the $7 hot dogs and $5 dollar soft drinks that break me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  32. caune says:

    @JKB:

    Here’s why…The majority of those trips listed weren’t vacations.
    If she is in South Africa visiting dignitaries, or in Colorado launching an initiative, it’s not a vacation and she needs staff.
    And seriously, she has a “job” it’s just an unpaid position

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 10