If It’s August, It Must Be Time For Fake Outrage Over The President’s Vacation

President Obama is back on Martha' Vineyard for a ten-day vacation. The usual suspects are upset.

Last yesterday afternoon, President Obama and his family arrived on Martha’s Vineyard for a ten-day vacation at a private resort. Even before they left, however, the trip was already the subject of the same expected, and tiresome, partisan sniping:

As a guest on Chicago’s WLS-AM radio Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that Obama should stay in D.C. and call Congress back to work.

“If you’re the president of the United States, and the nation is in crisis — and we’re in a jobs crisis right now — then you shouldn’t be out vacationing,” the former Massachusetts governor told WLS hosts Don Wade and Roma. “Instead you should be focusing on getting the economy going again. And, yeah, go back to the office yourself, pull back members of Congress and focus on getting the job done.”

Donald Trump, appearing on Fox News earlier this week, complained, “the fact is, [Obama] takes more vacations than any human being I’ve ever seen.”

“They used to complain about George Bush, but I understand he’s already exceeded George Bush and we’re not even through the year. … I think it sends a very, very bad message,” said Trump.

Trump is, not surprisingly, totally incorrect on that last part. Veteran CBS News White House Reporter Mark Knoller, who has become the unofficial statistician of such things for the White House Press Corps it seems, notes that President Obama has taken fewer days away from the Oval Office than any other recent President except Bill Clinton:

So far, President Obama has taken 61 vacation days after 31 months in office. At this point in their presidencies, George W. Bush had spent 180 days at his ranch where his staff often joined him for meetings. And Ronald Reagan had taken 112 vacation days at his ranch.

Among recent presidents, Bill Clinton took the least time off — 28 days.

Romney wasn’t alone in his criticism. The Republican National Committee chimed in yesterday with a website called Obama’s Getaway that allows people send a series of mildly amusing fake postcards. And, yesterday, Sarah Palin, whose entire life seems like one long vacation at this point, chimed in with her own disapproval:

On the president’s vacation to the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts beginning Thursday, Palin said Obama is “very, very tone deaf” for continuing with his vacation because of economic problems facing the country.

Asked if he should go, Palin responded “I wouldn’t if I were he, especially to Martha’s Vineyard,” and added, “I think he will hear from enough Americans that he will come back early.”

None of this is new, of course. President Obama has been criticized for playing golf and taking his daughters to a baseball game throughout his Presidency, and the RNC was behind a similarly silly effort to make political hay out of Presidential recreation last summer. It didn’t start with President Obama, though, and as it turns out there is something of a long, embarrassing, history of nitpicking when it comes to Presidential vacations:

No president claimed he was on a “working” vacation until that summer day in 1902 when a special presidential train took Theodore Roosevelt to his home in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Later there was to be Harry Truman’s “Little White House” in Key West, Fla., Richard Nixon’s “Florida White House” in Key Biscayne, and George W. Bush’s “Western White House” in Texas. But Roosevelt’s “Summer White House” in Oyster Bay was the first vacation home to carry the White House moniker. And he was the first president to bring staff with him.

It was, declares historian Lawrence L. Knutson and the White House Historical Association, the trip that “forever transformed the nature of the presidential vacation.” Roosevelt brought with him, wrote Knutson, aides, “a platoon of reporters,” and a large number of “stenographers, typists, telegraphers and messengers.” All were stuffed into makeshift quarters they shared with a dentist named Dr. W.C. Root over the Oyster Bay Bank. A newspaper cartoon showed Roosevelt riding off with an uprooted White House and a sign declaring “White House: Gone to Oyster Bay, Back in the Fall.” The critics roared, but The New York Times defended the long vacation, saying it “will be good for him and good for all of us.”

It was on that vacation that Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit” and brushed aside concerns about his vacation safety so soon after his predecessor was assassinated. He insisted on ditching the Secret Service, explaining he was carrying a revolver and could protect himself. He also sought his own amusement, at one point going to Long Island Sound where the torpedo submarine USS Plunger was berthed. For 55 minutes, he was the first president ever to be submerged in a sub. For this, The New York Times spanked him for risking his life in “some new-fangled, submersible, collapsible or other dangerous device.”

I doubt we’ll see President Obama getting into a submarine during this trip, of course, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need to take some time to get away from Washington and decompress, or at least decompress as best he can after receiving his daily intelligence briefing, meeting with staff, reviewing correspondence, and doing all the other things a President is still required to do when they are on “vacation.” Yes, there’s some political risk in the imagery of the President vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard while the economy struggles, but is it really any worse than the image of George H.W. Bush piloting his speedboat off the coast of Maine during a different economic downturn? Unlike President Reagan and the Bush’s, President Obama doesn’t have a private retreat he can get away to. Yes, he has a home in Chicago, but anyone who knows the Hyde Park area would recognize that it’s hardly an ideal location for a two-week long Presidential stay given all the security that would have to be put in place. So, if the President wants to spend some time on Martha’s Vineyard, I say more power to him.

More broadly, I have to wonder exactly what it is that the people who criticize Presidential leisure time want. Do they really want a President who spends all his time sitting behind the Resolute Desk doing…… well, whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing other than the activity that their criticizing. As we’ve noted here at OTB every time one of these issues comes out, the President is never really “off duty.” Wherever he goes he’s followed by Secret Service agents and aides, both civilian and military, and if there’s a crisis that needs his attention he’s never more than a phone call away. More importantly, though, the vast majority of what the President does involves delegating power or giving instructions to subordinates, who then report back to him when a decision needs to be made. Unless Romney, Palin, and the others are also arguing that the entire White House Staff should never take a vacation, I’m not quite sure exactly what purpose is served by having the President hunkered down in the White Hosue like a prisoner because there’s a problem somewhere in the world.

In reality, of course, this isn’t about the President’s vacation, this is about partisan hackery. Romney and the RNC aren’t attacking Obama over his vacation because they think there’s some urgent reason he needs to be back in Washington, as opposed to connected to Washington by the most advanced communications system in the world. They’re doing it because the President is a Democrat and they think they can gain political mileage out of it. Personally, I think the American people are smarter than the GOP thinks they are on this particular issue and that Obama’s Presidency is neither going to rise nor fall based on how many days he spent cycling with his daughters around Martha’s Vineyard.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Colby King is “the usual suspects”? He’s engaged in partisan sniping? Against the president? I thought they were both Democrats.




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  2. @Dave Schuler:

    King’s August 12th column seems more concerned with the optics of the thing but I’d ask him the same question. What, exactly, would he have the President do for the next ten days instead of going on vacation?




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  3. WR says:

    For such a self-described brilliant negotiator, Trump’s got a glaringly obvious tell. Whenever he says “I understantd,” whatever he follows is total BS. He did this with the birth certificate, too.




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  4. mantis says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Indeed, it is all about perception. King seems to be saying that it doesn’t really matter what the president does, but where he does it is of utmost importance. Silly.




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  5. jan says:

    As much as I see Obama’s presidency as an unmitigated disaster, I don’t begrudge him vacationing with his family. This is partisan nitpicking. I can’t even imagine the kind of stress being POTUS would generate within a family. So, taking a break is healthy for them, giving them all some kind of regeneration time.

    However, it’s too bad some of the Obama’s vacations couldn’t be spent at their home base in Chicago. I think if their gracious home could serve as a vacation buffer zone, now and then, much like Crowford did for Bush, there wouldn’t be so many barbs thrown at them. But, in an era where the average person views even camping as a luxery, some of their expensive choices for a vacation, along with their entourages, his and her planes, etc, might give their getaways an appearance of pretentious conspicious consumption.




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  6. mantis says:

    However, it’s too bad some of the Obama’s vacations couldn’t be spent at their home base in Chicago. I think if their gracious home could serve as a vacation buffer zone, now and then, much like Crowford did for Bush, there wouldn’t be so many barbs thrown at them.

    It’s a lot more expensive, and disruptive to the local community, for the Obamas to come stay in Hyde Park. Security is much more difficult to handle in a dense, urban area than someplace like Martha’s Vineyard or Crawford, TX. There are more people within a few square blocks of the Obama house than there are on the entire island of Martha’s Vineyard at the height of the tourist season.




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  7. narciso says:

    You mean like James Carney did ten years when he was a White House correspondent,




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  8. catfish says:

    I think it is a good idea – for the pres and Congress. How about a two year vacation? The country would really be better off. As long as he isn’t going overseas and criticizing this country in front of tin horn dictators.




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  9. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @jan:

    As much as I see Obama’s presidency as an unmitigated disaster, I don’t begrudge him vacationing with his family. This is partisan nitpicking.

    And then, of course, the rest of your comment is partisan nitpicking.




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  10. Fiona says:

    “Vacation” is a relative term, given that Obama remains on the job, in contact with his advisers, and a short distance from the White House should any emergency requiring his immediate attention occur.

    But, just as liberals chided Bush when he took off for Crawford, so Republicans in a campaign season, feel compelled to chide Obama about his vacation. It’s become an annual sporting event and I’m old enough to remember Reagan, Bush I, and even the workaholic Clinton getting chided for the same thing. It seems to particularly upset conservatives when Democratic presidents vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. Can’t imagine why. . .




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  11. Lit3Bolt says:

    Of course. The president must remain at the White House, with his finger on the Shiny Big Red Button(tm) at all times. Otherwise, MUNCHKINS could attack the United States with their dreaded singing and feared Elite SturmLollipops.




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  12. Jay Tea says:

    Are we allowed to be at least slightly annoyed that the Obamas took two separate planes, only a couple hours apart, instead of “jet-pooling” and traveling together to save us taxpayers some money?

    J.




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  13. mantis says:

    Are we allowed to be at least slightly annoyed

    No one is stopping you from being annoyed as you like, are they?




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  14. Moderate Mom says:

    Eh, I don’t care if he takes a vacation with his family. I hope he and the family has a wonderful time.

    Michelle and the girls flying separately a couple hours ahead of the President and family dog is another matter. That’s just stupidly wasteful. Those flights and security are expensive. They need to have a little more respect for taxpayers that pay for their transportation and security.




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  15. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @Jay Tea:

    Are we allowed to be at least slightly annoyed that the Obamas took two separate planes, only a couple hours apart, instead of “jet-pooling” and traveling together to save us taxpayers some money?

    No.




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  16. Habbit says:

    I think the major problem the Republican Party has with the excusal of President Obama’s exorbitant vacation during these difficult times is the contrast exhibited by the media when President Bush was under the same scrutiny.

    For the record, being the President of the United States probably does take a couple years off one’s life, and I’m not inclined to be upset that the Man needs to get away from the pressure every once in a while. I do, however, agree with the Republican Party that the hypocrisy of the mainstream media in regards to this particular subject (Presidential “vacations”) is blatantly hypocritical, and all the more reason why major news sources need to rot in a dead carcass.

    To my knowledge, there’s no fatass, ignorant college dropout currently in talks about producing Celsius 9/11.




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  17. An Interested Party says:

    To my knowledge, there’s no fatass, ignorant college dropout currently in talks about producing Celsius 9/11.

    Well maybe there will be if a disaster like 9/11 happens on our current President’s watch…




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  18. Habbit says:

    Oh there you are! Your embarrassing exit from our last encounter had me quite concerned! Anyway, on the topic of your slightly relevant statement, I would appeal to common intellect and exert there are an abundance of national predicaments that could be defined as ‘disastrous’, and that open eyes and uncolored glasses reveal our country is currently embroiled in several.

    Again, I respectfully insist you to avoid wasting my time with your hopeless Democratic pandering, excuse-making, and goal-shifting… no… up-rooting, lest I position my other foot within the confines of your derriére. 🙂 Feel free to dislike this comment as well and have a great day! Until next time?




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