The phoniest issue

    Right on schedule, the Republican party has circulated an email assailing President Obama for “flying off to Martha’s Vineyard for a nine-day vacation.” What a yawner. It has long been a habit to attack presidents whenever they attempt to kick back, but, as political issues go, this one is tiresome and patently phony.It was phony when liberals mocked George W. Bush for his frequent trips to Crawford, it was phony when Republicans and southern Democrats skewered Harry Truman for riding the presidential yacht to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it was phony when LBJ-haters hammered LBJ for his long sojourns on the LBJ ranch, and it’s phony now. It’s the ultimate August story, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.Speaking of nothing, we have Mitt Romney. The Republican shape-shifter has been complaining this week about Obama’s vacation and depicting the vacation spot as a hotbed of liberalism (“a lot of Democrats in Martha’s Vineyard, I don’t know why”) – yet Romney himself will be hobnobbing with the Vineyard swells when he stages a campaign fundraiser there next week.  One easy way to dismiss the current Republican umbrage is to cite certain empirical facts that seem to have been forgotten amid the usual willful amnesia. According to CBS News’ Mark Knoller – who has covered every president since Gerald Ford, and who has long tracked presidential vacation time – Obama at this point in his tenure has logged 61 V-days…whereas George W., at the same point in his tenure, had already logged 180. And Ronald Reagan had taken 112 V-days, at a time when America was plagued with inflation and joblessness.But let’s not get hung up on the numbers, because there’s a far better way to highlight the phoniness of vacationgate. We can start by quoting Knoller, who sent this email to factcheck.org back in January ’10: “I have long held the view that a U.S. president is never really on vacation. The job – and its awesome powers and responsibilities – is his wherever he is and whatever he’s doing.”In other words, a vacationing president is never off the clock. Does anyone really believe that the republic is endangered if Obama goes out for ice cream in Vineyard Haven with his daughters – when, in reality, all the digital accouterments of his office travel with him at all times? Way back in 1798, John Adams’ critics were probably right when they charged that his seven-month vacation on his Massachusetts farm was a tad excessive, and that as a result he was out of touch with political developments in faraway Philadelphia; in those days, after all, the communication system consisted of messengers on horseback. Blackberry was merely the name of a fruit.Today, given the instantaneous e-communication, and the ability to transport aides and experts and crisis managers great distances within hours, there is no such thing as a real vacation. All contemporary presidents conduct plenty of business while seemingly at leisure. (Granted, during an August vacation in 2001, Bush reportedly went fishing after he received the daily presidential briefing that was entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S,” but who’s to say whether he would have reacted with greater urgency had he received the same briefing in Washington?)But to really put the matter in perspective, ask yourself this question:Do you, in your distinctly non-presidential life, truly have the will or capacity to fully unplug yourself for a real vacation anymore?I was at a Delaware beach not long ago, and saw people yammering on their cells while wading in the surf. The local wi-fi’d coffee shop was filled with type-A vacationers downloading their office PDFs. (And I was there too, writing this blog.) One of the people I was vacationing with appeared to be surgically attached to his work-related Twitter feed.Even we plebes are forever on the clock. Indeed, if we’re all so wired in, imagine what it must be like for Obama. Or what it would be like for, say, Mitt Romney, who, if he ever became president, would take summer heat for repairing to his beachfront compound in La Jolla, California. And that predictable Democratic outrage would be just as phony.——-Does Obama have the will or capacity to spend the next 15 months speaking Truman? I contend in a newspaper column today that he has no other choice.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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