A politically perfect summer vacation for the Obamas

Marco Garcia/AP/File
Last summer, pre-election, the Obama family went to Hawaii. Barack Obama walked on Kailua Beach in Kailua with his daughters Malia, left, and Sasha during their August vacation.

Here’s a summer blockbuster President Obama might like to see: “Escape From 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!”

He’s been in office only a few months, but Mr. Obama lately has been acting as if he feels confined by an executive mansion that others have described as a pillared prison.

First there was that date night with Michelle in Manhattan. Then there was the detour for family sightseeing when he was in Paris on his June overseas tour.

Well, hang in there, Mr. President. Schools are out, and soon Congress will be, too. That means it’s almost time for your first full-blown, Secret Service-accompanied, Air Force One-enabled, presidential summer vacation.

But remember, you’re not in the Senate anymore. Presidential recreation can be hazardous. So Decoder – in the spirit of helping the democratic process – offers these tips:

Politics doesn’t stop at the pool’s edge. The most important rule of presidential vacations is that their primary purpose is to convey political symbolism. Relaxation is secondary.

Think of the ranches. On their presidential vacations, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush spent lots of time clearing horses, riding brush [Ed. note: Isn’t that backward?], and other manly stuff that no doubt appealed to core GOP voters.

Then, after they left the White House, they retired to air-conditioned mansions in Los Angeles and Dallas, respectively.

Bill Clinton even dragged his family to Jackson, Wyo., in 1995 and 1996 because pollster Dick Morris said swing voters liked the idea of outdoor, Western family vacations. Never mind that “Bill Clinton” and “vigorous hiking” seem a contradiction in terms, like “Barack Obama” and “playing hockey.”

The first family doesn’t fit in a minivan. Remember when you could just throw a couple of bags in the Caravan and you and Michelle and the kids could hit the road and just drive, all the way to Hawaii if you wanted to [Ed. note: Maps. You need maps.], living on chips and breakfast burritos? Those days are over.

A first family vacation now takes about as much planning as the US invasion of Grenada. Helicopters and limos have to be forward-deployed. Secret Service agents and White House aides fill local hotels and B&Bs. Not to mention Air Force One.

All this takes taxpayer dollars, and lots of them. So, extravagant locales are probably out. The Canary Islands will have to wait.

Reporters in shorts are still working. Those pale, grumpy people in the distance are the press. Presidential vacations are not their vacation, and they would be happy to document any embarrassing slip, given the yawning chasm of the unfilled news hole they confront every day.

So don’t hit a rabbit with an oar (Jimmy Carter), stroll the beach in a suit and tie (Richard Nixon), or stay away from Washington too long (George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, many others) if you don’t want to get criticized.

To sum up: You need to go somewhere that symbolizes your political appeal. Perhaps somewhere along the East or West coasts would be best. It can’t be too far, to keep costs down. Hawaii may be out. And it needs to be easy to seal off from the press. A peninsula would be good.

Decoder knows the perfect place: Kennebunkport, Maine!

Oh, right.

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