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Obama Vacation Draws Criticism

  • Kent Klein

President Barack Obama waves from the top of the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, on his way to Martha's Vineyard for vacation, Aug. 18, 2011

President Barack Obama waves from the top of the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, on his way to Martha's Vineyard for vacation, Aug. 18, 2011

President Barack Obama is being criticized by Republicans and some Democrats for taking a 10-day vacation on the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Critics are unhappy about the timing and location of the trip.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney appeared to anticipate some of the criticism when he announced on August 10 that President Obama and his family would take some time away from Washington.

“The president does plan to travel with his family at the end of August to Martha’s Vineyard, as he has in the past," said Carney. "And I do not think Americans out there would begrudge that notion that the President would spend some time with his family.”

But some Americans say it is not appropriate for the president to leave the White House when financial markets are plummeting and unemployment remains high.

Among the most prominent critics is former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, one of the leading Republican presidential contenders.

Romney pointed out Wednesday that Mr. Obama’s trip follows a three-day bus tour through the Midwest. He also said the president should not wait until after his vacation to unveil his new economic plan.

“We appreciate the fact that he is trying to devote some time to it," said Romeny. "[He is] not just going to be on the bus tour, not just going to be vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, but giving some thought to the American people. I would have thought that is what he would have done from day one.”

Criticism of the trip is not limited to Mr. Obama’s political opponents. Some Democrats are expressing concern about the appearance of the president taking a vacation in an affluent resort area while millions of Americans are out of work.

Opinion writer Colbert King, of the Washington Post newspaper, is usually an Obama supporter. But in a recent column he suggested that the president should spend some time with people who cannot afford to take a vacation, rather than, as he put it, “in splendid seclusion among the rich and famous.”

Presidential historian Allan Lichtman, a professor at Washington’s American University, says Mr. Obama is not the first president to take a critical beating for going on vacation.

“Criticizing presidential vacations is as old as the republic, and as tired as yesterday’s newspapers," said Lichtman.

Lichtman says the second U.S. president, John Adams, left Washington for his Massachusetts farm for seven months in 1798. He was not re-elected.

In the 1950’s, Dwight Eisenhower was ridiculed for his many golf outings. Democrats assailed Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush for their lengthy stretches of down time.

After several heavily-criticized visits to Martha’s Vineyard, Democrat Bill Clinton had aides take a public-opinion poll on where he should vacation. As a result, he went instead to the Western resort of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

According to Lichtman, criticism of presidential vacations is unavoidable.

“No matter when he chose to take a vacation, he is going to take criticism that it is not the right time," he said. "I think he has got to operate under his own timetable. Presidents need vacations. It is the most difficult, the most demanding, the most harrowing job in the world.”

And a presidential vacation is not entirely an escape from the duties of the office, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"There is no such thing as a presidential vacation," he said. "The presidency travels with you. He will be in constant communication and get regular briefings from his national security team, as well as his economic team, and he will, of course, be fully capable, if necessary, of traveling back if that were required. It is not very far.”

At least part of the president’s time in Martha’s Vineyard will be spent putting the finishing touches on a new plan to create jobs and cut the U.S. deficit. He is expected to announce the proposals early in September.

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