Tee Time: The Optics of Presidential Vacations
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.”