COMMENTARY | It seems every time President Barack Obama boards Air Force One, there's a critic waiting to pounce. It's pretty much a time-honored tactic of the opposition to blast the existing party for taking lavish trips on the taxpayer dime.
I remember Democrats needling George H.W. Bush for zooming around in boats off Kennebunkport, Maine, claiming he was insensitive to the rising oil prices from a Middle East war. Bill Clinton's trips to Martha's Vineyard or Amelia Island, S.C., got the same treatment, as did George W. Bush's decision to shuttle back-and-forth so frequently to Crawford, Texas.
The latest came last week when a St. Louis broadcaster invited to the White House for an interview had a testy exchange with President Obama on the subject of presidential vacations. Originally, the president was hoping to discuss "The Buffet Rule" but found himself buffeted by on the vacation issue by Larry Conners. "The economy is a big issue and concern for folks," Conners said. "I mean, the unemployment, trying to make ends meet, gas prices, food prices going up. Some of our viewers are complaining, they get frustrated, even angered, when they see the first family jetting around, different vacations and so forth, sometimes maybe they think under color of state business and that you're out of touch, that you don't really know what they're experiencing right now." The exchange was covered by several sites, including The Weekly Standard .
So the real issue is a series of vacations, and not America's tax policy? Really?
Most critics don't report how much travel someone else has done, so we'd at least have some measure of comparison. An exception is Mark Knoller with CBS, who tallied up the days of extended vacation that Obama took, comparing them with vacations taken by George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
He has 11 vacations of two or more days that have generated a total of 61 days of vacation from 2009 through mid-August of 2011. He also had 20 visits to Camp David, spanning 48 days. I ran the numbers and found that's 109 days in 30 months (Knoller's story was written in mid-August), or 3.6333 per month. Reagan had 43 visits for 349 days over 96 months for 3.6354 days per month. George W. Bush had 77 visits for 490 days over another eight years (96 months) for an average of 5.1042 per month.
I believe Republicans have Democrats beat in this arena, however. Reagan and George W. Bush had ranches in rustic areas. Of course these were wealthy sprawling estates, but Democrats like Obama who go to Hawaii and other countries are just asking for it, even if the costs are equal to, or even less than travel trips taken by Republicans.
Obama should listen to conservative commentator Dick Morris, who famously forced Clinton to tough it out in Jackson Hole, Wyo., for a less gaudy vacation when facing his own re-election in 1996. Perception is more important than reality.
Fly to visit another country, and you're spending too much. Don't take state visits to other countries, and you're accused of ignoring our allies or cheaping out, as Obama was knocked for with his first state gift to a foreign leader (Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom). Had he spent a lot, I'm sure we would have heard about it from Matt Drudge.
The point is not to say Obama takes .119288 fewer vacation days per month than Reagan, or 1.588038 fewer days per month than Bush on average because he's a good guy, or those GOP presidents were bad guys. It's to say that perhaps we've overdone the harping on presidents for vacation time a little overzealously.
Perhaps if we could set a reasonable budget for such vacations, then possible future presidents like Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio would have some idea of what is "too much," rather than this tired topic both parties launch when they're out of ideas on legitimate topics.
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