Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Few Days Off

The "Wake Up America!" set - consisting of boisterous bloggers, caustic commentators, pontificating political opportunists and whacko wing nuts - has been in full fury recently because President Obama engaged in an activity they found deeply disturbing.

He went on vacation.

Self-appointed critics of every stripe whined that Obama should be at his Oval Office desk 24/7 working on an economic recovery plan. Or that he should have called Congress back into session to assist him.

Just what we need: an instant replay of the debt ceiling debacle that would lower government approval levels to single digits.

Wisely, the President ignored this babble, packed up his family and fled to Martha's Vineyard, where the Obamas spent $50,000 of their own money - big bucks for an alleged socialist - to rent an estate for 10 days.

And why not?

First and foremost, he didn't disappear into the north woods. The White House travels with the President whether he's in Martha's Vineyard or Toad Suck, Arkansas. His military, economic and political advisors are there to brief him each and every day. The nuclear football is always nearby.

Second, it's not for nothin' that every politician on The Hill flees town in August when the district is a steaming cauldron of heat and humidity. Think Guatemala with monuments.

Third, every First Family needs to occasionally escape the confines of the White House, a place President Truman once called "the crown jewel of the American penal system." We forget that Obama, or any president for that matter, is also a husband and a father who needs time to reconnect with his wife and children.

The only thing I don't understand is why the President has embraced golf as a form of relaxation, a game more frustrating than dealing with a room full of gimlet-eyed Republicans.

Last but not least, President Obama has taken 61 vacation days after 31 months in office, according to CBS. 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.

Obama has been criticized for vacationing in opulent surroundings, especially at a time of economic distress. Better he would be holed up in a Motel 6 on the Beltway, I guess.

But let's set the record straight. FDR, even during the Great Depression, vacationed at his colonial mansion in Hyde Park, N.Y., and used U.S. Navy ships for fishing expeditions.

Ike used to hang out at the Augusta National Country Club in Georgia, perhaps the most prestigious and expensive private club in the United States, playing golf while the Soviets aimed hundreds of nuclear missiles at us.

JFK relaxed at the family estate in Hyannis Port, Mass. Nixon had his western White House in San Clemente. LBJ owned a massive ranch in Texas as does George Bush. Reagan had his Santa Barbara ranch.

George H.W. Bush has his compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Even Jimmy Carter retreated to his peanut farm in Georgia.

And each time they went on vacation, there was a crisis brewing somewhere.

Obama doesn't own an expensive vacation estate or a compound or even a condo. So he rents. Think of it as an economic stimulus package.

Having seen a number of presidents emerge from four to eight years in office stooped and gray, it is sheer folly to begrudge the leader of the free world a few days off.

Most Americans understood that in the past. Take the case of Herbert Hoover, as recounted by George E. Condon Jr. in the Atlantic.

Hoover sought the Navy's help to give him some respite during the depths of the Depression. Almost on the spur of the moment, the White House announced in March 1931 that "to secure a short rest" Hoover was going to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

His mode of transportation was to be the newly modernized battleship Arizona. Its trial run became a luxury cruise for the president.

Somewhat defensively, the announcement noted "this will be the first vacation of the president since assuming office with the exception of a seven-day fishing trip to Florida something more than a year ago."

Time magazine described Hoover as "a very tired man" at the outset of the cruise. But after many "long naps," exercise on the deck with a medicine ball, and dinners (in formal wear) accompanied by an orchestra, Hoover was rejuvenated.

Time described him as "a new man physically ... his cheeks were a pinkish tan (and) lines around his eyes had been smoothed out."

They don't report stories like that any more.


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