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Tee Time: The Optics of Presidential Vacations

Bush and Reagan spent more days away from the White House than Obama, but also set up satellite offices in their ranch homes.

by
Bill Straub

Bio

March 13, 2014 - 2:14 am
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According to unofficial records compiled by Mark Knoller, longtime White House correspondent for CBS Radio, the all-time vacation record-holder is Obama’s predecessor, former President George W. Bush, who racked up 1,020 vacation days during his eight-year tenure.

Unless Obama picks up the tempo considerably, Bush’s record appears safe. In fact, he could wind up having taken five times as many days off as Obama if current trends hold.

One Bush vacation in August 2005, spent primarily at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he cleared brush and visited with family and friends, ate up five weeks, the longest period any president spent away from Washington in 36 years.

Bush, who had little success hiding his distaste for Washington and its ways, remained only rarely in the nation’s capital over presidential weekends, preferring getaways to Camp David, the presidential compound in Maryland, or even his parents’ estate in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Reagan also took his share of days off – and then some, according to critics. Records show Reagan spent all or part of 335 days at Rancho del Cielo during his eight presidential years.

While both Bush and Reagan took more days, however, the Obama vacations may ultimately prove to have been more expensive. The costs are impossible to calculate — no White House has been forthcoming about vacation expenses. But PolitiFact.com reasonably notes that Bush and Reagan spent most of their down time at their private ranches, which often became sites of working vacations. The government may have proved able to save some trip costs by permanently setting up shop at the ranches. Obama, meanwhile, visits various locales and very rarely hits his official residence in Chicago.

The fact remains presidents look for time off. Richard M. Nixon famously frequented Key Biscayne, Fla., with his friend Bebe Rebozo. George H.W. Bush often took off for Maine. Bill Clinton, who spent 174 vacation days away from D.C. – low by modern standards – liked Martha’s Vineyard but switched to Jackson, Wyo., for a couple years, viewing it as more politically advantageous to his re-election campaign.

White House spokespeople, and the presidents themselves, are quick to note they never go on vacation in the traditional sense. Given modern communications technology and support, the Oval Office “is wherever the president of the United States is,” as former Reagan aide Ken Duberstein once said.

Daily briefings reportedly remain routine on most vacation days. George W. Bush dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans, leaving Crawford to visit the scene. George H.W. Bush planned America’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait during a stay in Kennebunkport and Clinton called for airstrikes on al-Qaeda encampments during a stint at Martha’s Vineyard.

“Presidents don’t get vacations — they just get a change of scenery,” former first lady Nancy Reagan once said. “The job goes with you.”

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Washington freelancer Bill Straub is former White House correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service.

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Top Rated Comments   
Golly, I have no problem whatever with Dear Leader (May Peace Be Upon Him) taking a vacation or twenty-or-so. My complaint is that he keeps coming back.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama's problem is that Gingrich is right, Obama "...can be as ineffective in Key Largo as he was in the White House,”

Obama may be taking no more vacation days than his predecessors, but he's certainly taking those vacations in far more lavish and expensive resorts
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"He is among the laziest presidents to ever grace the office (if one can really call it that). "

One cannot.

However, one small change makes it a true statement:

"He is among the laziest presidents to ever disgrace the office. "


31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (23)
All Comments   (23)
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Golly, I have no problem whatever with Dear Leader (May Peace Be Upon Him) taking a vacation or twenty-or-so. My complaint is that he keeps coming back.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...biographer David McCullough reported that Adams foes tried to start a war with France during his prolonged absence....."

And they were successful. The US fought a bloody naval war with France from 1798 to 1800. It is known as the Quasi War.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama's problem is that Gingrich is right, Obama "...can be as ineffective in Key Largo as he was in the White House,”

Obama may be taking no more vacation days than his predecessors, but he's certainly taking those vacations in far more lavish and expensive resorts
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Daily briefings reportedly remain routine on most vacation days."

Except Obama doesn't attend them either. At least not the security briefings.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
And that's why they're routine.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe the comparison should be between First Families vacationing on taxpayer dime rather than the President alone?
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"where he could ride horses and occasionally delight pool photographers by wielding an ax to chop wood."

Good article, but I have a nit to pick here. Reagan didn't just "ride horses". He was a consummate horseman, giving it up only when he realized that his advancing Alzheimer's made him unable to ride safely anymore.

By the way, not only did he chop wood with an axe, he was also pretty handy with a chainsaw.

Can you imagine the carnage if Mr. Pajama Boy ever tried to use a chainsaw?

=:O

31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
You know, they have barely scratched the surface on the issue of the degree to which Obama really doesn't do his job. I look forward to the books that will likely be written after he leaves office in 2017 that will shine more light on how little he has done. He is among the laziest presidents to ever grace the office (if one can really call it that).

The point of this article is so off the mark it isn't funny, as all predecessors worked much harder on the job than Obama has done.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have said repeatedly;

Obama wants very desperately to BE President
However
Obama has No Desire what-so-ever to DO President.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"He is among the laziest presidents to ever grace the office (if one can really call it that). "

One cannot.

However, one small change makes it a true statement:

"He is among the laziest presidents to ever disgrace the office. "


31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Surely you are not comparing the number of "vacations" that past Presidents have taken at their own residences to the in your face, extravagantly expensive trips the obamas have taken...several with separate planes at our expense, in one case, separate travel accommodations for their dog.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are a number of things this report excludes:

Obama's golfing trips which are probably being excluded from this list of vacation time (not to mention the optics of his golfing, former President Bush stopped golfing because of the war)

The cost... which is astronomical from what we've learned of some of his trips. And not just President Obama, but the First Lady as well - taking separate planes (which of course includes the separate airfare for their dog... don't get me started on the picture of the dogs eating off the White House china), separate trips, the amount they spend in clothes and food... let's hope they don't expect taxpayers to pick up the tab when they're out of office, no wonder we need debt ceilings with no roof.

His general laziness. It hasn't been given much discussion but at one point I'd heard he starts his work day late, ends it early, and of course the numerous reports of him skipping key meetings.

Then you've got the general degradation of the office; how many previous Presidents spent more time on entertainment shows (which frankly have asked him marginally more in depth questions than many news organizations). You've got his recent appearance on that web Fern show where he's insulted (don't get me wrong, I think he deserves that) but it's really not helping put any fear into Putin's eyes I'd wager.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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