It happens every August. Tomatoes peak in flavor, gardenias peak in fragrance, and presidents get stupidly abused for going on vacation.
As soon as Barack Obama flew to Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday, the usual suspects went on rhetorical auto-pilot – as they did when Obama flew there in 2009, 2010, and 2011. For instance, Maryland Republican chairman Diana Waterman complained: “When there are so many people out there looking for jobs, and Americans are struggling to make ends meet, this (one-week trip) sends the wrong message to people who are struggling to survive.”
Tom Fitton, who helms the conservative group Judicial Watch, is hung up on the taxpayer tab for these vacations – the use of Air Force One, the hotel bills for Secret Service agents entrusted with the president’s life. He said: “It’s a question of, should our government be spending money on this sort of thing in this day and age?”
And Utah congressman Chris Stewart groused: “Most of the people in my district could never afford to visit Martha’s Vineyard, and those who could would feel uncomfortable vacationing in a place that has a reputation for being for the elite.”
(So says a member of the party that handed the ’12 presidential nomination to a one-percent elitist. So says a member of the House, which is now on vacation for five weeks. But I digress.)
There’s arguably no more vivid manifestation of our impoverished discourse than the invocation of Vacationgate. Democrats did it when George W. Bush flew down to his Texas ranch (by the way, Bush at this point in his presidency had taken 367 vacation days; Obama, only 92), and Democrats did it when Ronald Reagan flew to his California ranch (and especially in 1982, when he vacationed in Barbados at the home of a Hollywood actress, at a time when domestic inflation was rampant and the jobless rate was 9.3 percent.)
It’s the laziest kind of attack. It’s ridiculously easy to draw a contrast between any president’s leisure surroundings and the country’s contemporaneous woes. I don’t know whether Theodore Roosevelt’s critics attacked him for vacationing at Yosemite in 1903 (he called it “a great solemn cathedral”), but today’s talking-point types would’ve had a field day with TR and the woes of 1903. Something like this:
“At a time when the immigrant inner cities are teeming with poverty and crime, at a time when we’re still mourning the deaths of 4,200 brave U.S. soldiers in the Philippine-American war, at a time when the average struggling American worker earns a fraction of what J. P. Morgan makes, this president is taking an elite vacation at taxpayer expense in a region that few Americans can afford to visit.”
The argument, of course, is that unless or until the state of the union is perfect, presidents should stay on the clock in Washington – which is absurd, especially in this day and age when presidents are never off the clock, regardless of locale. They can work from anywhere (just like us common folk, who sit on the beach thumbing our Twitter feeds.) Bill Clinton’s 1998 summer sojourn on Martha’s Vineyard didn’t stop him from ordering retaliatory attacks on al Qaeda after the U.S embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
By the way, here’s a message for Obama’s knee-jerk critics: If you want to keep whining about Obama’s leisure-time use of Air Force One (which reportedly costs the taxpayer $180,000 per hour of flight time), then you need to whine about the fact that George W. Bush flew it down to his leisure ranch 77 times in 8 years (Bush, 2001: “I’m fixing to get on Air Force One and take it to Crawford, Texas”). And if you want to imply that Obama is loafing on the Vineyard, then you need to stipulate that Bush loafing in Crawford in August ’01 when he shrugged off an intelligence briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”
Plus, here’s the conservative Daily Caller website (no fan of Obama) weighing in on whether it’s wise to malign Obama’s vacation: “Has there ever been a stupider critique? Martha’s Vineyard isn’t a suburb of Tehran, is it? Who gives a hoot where President Obama chooses to go in the U.S. for his vacay? Look, GOP. President Obama is very deserving of a lot of criticism . . . but keep the criticism smart. Knocking the location of President Obama’s vacation just makes the party look petty.”
Nothing new there.
On another topic entirely, I did a freelance artlcle this weekend on the (dim) prospects for success in the new Middle East peace talks – and the high stakes for Secretary of State John Kerry, who dragged the antagonists back to the table.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1