The president has been on the receiving end of some withering criticism over his unwavering determination to stick to his guns and hold true to his long-range vacation plans. Such commitment is admirable, particularly in the face of public admonitions from both Republican malcontents and weak sisters in his own party. Obama was already under fire in June for his planned California getaway, even as the crisis on the southern border boiled over in the summer sun and disasters unfolded on no less than three other continents. But in August, undeterred by the negative Nellies surrounding him, he doubled down on his strategy, announcing a Golf Surge with a plerophory that his detractors would be proven wrong yet again.
The launch party for this latest stop on the PGA tour — that’s Presidential Golf Adventures, and don’t any of you media vultures try to steal it — had the flavor of genius about it. Rather than seeming distant and removed from world affairs, Barack Obama met the press corps head on, reciting a prepared statement on the newest plan to bomb Iraq. But in the background stood Marine One, the commander in chief’s personal helicopter, leaving no doubt as to the longer-range arrangements for the day. And only moments later he disappeared into the aforementioned aircraft, zipping off to the gated enclaves of Martha’s Vineyard.
This proved too great a cross to bear for Dana Milbank. The author bubbled over on the pages of the Washington Post, declaring that the tawdry display gave “the impression that he is detached as the world burns. “
The president was not without his supporters in the media, however. USA Today launched into a spirited defense of the Tiger Woods School of International Crisis Management, leading off with the time tested comparison between the sum totals of Obama’s vacation days and those spent by his predecessor in Crawford or at the Kennebunkport compound. (A nearly four to one ratio in favor of the current White House occupant at this stage in their respective presidencies, for those keeping score at home.) The statistical lesson seemed to become a bit strained when they moved from Bush to Bill Clinton to Franklin Roosevelt. But the essay might still have been salvageable at that point had they not resorted to playing the John Adams card. (Adams spent seven months on his farm at one point, leading his critics to ask if he’d abdicated his office.)
Simply stating that the president’s vacation days don’t add up to the quantities taken by previous office holders is weak tea at best. Comparing your hero’s actions as being somewhat less questionable than those of other leaders you’ve mocked still doesn’t paint him in a good light.
The USA Today article put the true cherry atop the dish, however, when they chose to add the following disclaimer:
“If he’s lucky, no big emergencies will upend his trip.”
If this is where the bar of success is being placed, things may indeed be looking up for the president because we seem to be running out of countries available for meltdowns at a brisk clip.
While we’re on the subject, I would further caution the cable news network talking heads against pointing out — as so many have this week — that President Obama’s vacation is measurably shorter than the one being taken by Congress. You’re going to point out to your viewers that the legislative branch is taking even more time off than the executive while the world looks increasingly like Rome after Nero had a few too many flagons of unwatered wine and got into the matches, eh? Let us recall that this is the same Congress which currently enjoys an approval record only slightly higher than Herpes Simplex Type 2, and even then only in select demographics.
Again, this is not a flattering comparison. What they need to do is point out the distinct advantages of such avocational outings and how they have historically benefited the nation. In fact, Obama’s cheerleaders are missing a golden opportunity here if you ask me. With a bit of embellishment, the accomplishments of America’s greatest leaders could readily be portrayed in the context of a few days spent batting a small white ball toward yonder hole in the ground.
Who could forget the inspiring image of John F. Kennedy, staring at Cuba across the turbulent waters of the Gulf of Mexico from the verdant 16th green at the Ocean Reef golf course in Key Largo, deciding the fate of the world? And what real American doesn’t feel their pulse quicken when remembering Ronald Reagan demanding that the wall be torn down before nipping off to hit the back nine at Berliner Golf Club Gatow, leaving Gorbachev to stew in his own juices? And don’t forget Grant and Lee hammering out the final details of the latter’s surrender while polishing up their short games on the future site of the Falling River Country Club. The possibilities are endless.
The cold, hard reality is that presidents will always take vacations. (Though a few internet wags embarrassingly dug up some old footage of then Senator Barack Obama claiming that things like “family life, vacations, leisure” are “gone” when you become president.) And it remains equally true that there will always be trouble somewhere in America or the world on any given day. But as bad as things may be on any given morning, some weeks are worse than others, and these past few have been a doozy. Critics will predictably howl when presidents head off for some down time, but in this case there may be a bit more justification for the venom than usual.