President Obama heads to the island of Martha’s Vineyard on Thursday for a 10-day vacation and along with his bathing suit, he probably should pack a flak jacket to protect himself from political attacks.
Republicans for days have been berating Obama for planning to take time off instead of sitting in his office, working on the economic recovery. Some have suggested he call back Congress to help, though after the last round of bargaining about raising the debt ceiling, Obama may be just as happy that lawmakers are also out of Washington on vacation.
In an email, the Republican National Committee on Thursday even coupled Obama’s break with a plea for funds.
There are two key points to make about presidential vacations. First, beating up a president for going away is a time-honored tradition. As David McCullough noted in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Adams, the nation’s second president went back to his Quincy, Mass., farm for around seven months in the summer of 1798, as war fever with France raged on. This prompted some to wonder about whether Adams had abdicated.
Adams was dealing with a sick wife and like everyone else was fleeing the usual summer pestilence and yellow fever outbreaks. Which brings up the second point. Defending a president for leaving is just as much of a time-honored tradition as attacking him.
Taking a page from past disputes, the current White House has defended Obama for going to the island, noting that with modern communication devices he is never really off of the job even when he takes breaks to eat ice cream, buy books, bicycle and play golf.
Still, there is the question of political optics, which has annoyed even some liberal critics. Obama will be resting and recreating on an island associated with the wealthy (though not everyone there is) at a time when unemployment has remained at 9.1% and how the administration has handled economic issues remains the heart of U.S. politics and policy through 2012 and probably beyond.
Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, came under fire for taking far more vacation days, some 500 over his two terms, to visit his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He famously stayed at the ranch after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and the Gulf coast. When he finally did visit the region, it was too late and way too little to overcome the political fallout.
Perhaps the most vocal critic of Obama has been Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, who called on Obama to stay in Washington and to even call back Congress.
Coincidentally, Romney has scheduled a fundraiser on Martha’s Vineyard during the time Obama is there.