Obama on the Vineyard, redux: why presidential vacations stir up a furor

President Obama and his family head to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts for vacation, nearly an annual event for the last two Democratic presidents. All the fuss, too, is an annual event for their critics.

Steven Senne/AP
A woman enters a fudge shop through a screen door (l.) past a shirt with the name of President Obama, in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard, on Friday. The first summer vacation of President Obama's second term is bringing him back to the Vineyard.

Apparently, not all working folks deserve a vacation.

As President Obama heads to Martha’s Vineyard Saturday for a nine-day hiatus from the rough-and-tumble of Washington, he’s taking flak for taking time off with so much work undone.

After all, federal workers still face furloughs due to spending cuts, and the economy hasn’t exactly roared back to life, despite White House declarations that it has stabilized. There’s the ongoing matter of the terrorist threat that prompted the administration to close embassies in 19 countries in the Middle East and Africa. And, well, American fugitive Edward Snowden is enjoying the first stretch of his year-long asylum in Russia, so that day of reckoning is hardly imminent.

"When there are so many people out there looking for jobs and Americans are struggling to make ends meet, this sends the wrong message to people who are struggling to survive," said Diana Waterman, the Maryland Republican Party chairman, in an interview with USA Today.

Martha’s Vineyard, the tony New England island retreat, is a regular favorite of the first family, as it was for President Bill Clinton, who vacationed on the Vineyard all but one year of his presidency. Though the Obamas passed on a pre-Labor Day sojourn there last year in advance of the 2012 presidential election, they visited the three summers prior.

Meanwhile, Congress is out of session for five weeks. August in Washington is a wonderful time to sightsee as a result (if you can stand the heat and humidity), but not a top spot for the people’s business.

Nonetheless, adversaries are crowing that the president should head to Camp David in Maryland, rather than the celebrity-dotted Massachusetts haven, a stomping ground for past presidents including Ulysses Grant and Mr. Clinton, and stars like Carly Simon and Ted Danson. Or maybe Mr. Obama should “staycation,” as many Americans do when financial times are tight, and pitch those lawn chairs outside the White House.

Instead, the Obamas will take their rest in an “ocean-view Vineyard estate,” Bloomberg reports, owned by David Schulte, a Chicago investment banker and Democratic Party donor. Bloomberg says the property includes a 5,000-square-foot home, an infinity pool, basketball and tennis courts, and a gymnasium. 

So who foots the bill for these family memories?

Although the White House isn’t dishing on the cost of the Obamas' trip, a spokesman has said the family shares costs with taxpayers. But the tab won’t likely be cheap, of course – it takes a village of government employees to help any presidential family travel. For example, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette, the owner of the Wesley Hotel in the island town of Oak Bluffs has said he has booked 70 rooms for Secret Service members and another five for the Transportation Security Administration.

Obama has no public events scheduled during his time there, though most officials will readily suggest that a president is rarely, if ever, free of the duties and burdens of office – no matter how glamorous the location for a respite.

“Presidents are entitled to vacations,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” "Secondly, there are never any real vacations for presidents. The work goes on. It’s unbelievable how much work.”

Despite the latest griping, Obama is hardly a modern-day front-runner for days logged off the grid. At the same point in President George W. Bush’s presidency, the 43rd president had spent 367 days at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, or at his family compound at Kennebunkport, Maine, according to CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, who keeps track of such White House trivia.

By contrast, Obama, who doesn't own a vacation home, has spent 92 days of his presidency on vacation, Mr. Knoller says.

Regardless, the complaining is as much an annual tradition as the vacations themselves. At least the Obamas haven’t poll-tested the locale, as Clinton did before his 1996 reelection bid. Instead of heading to the Vineyard, the Clintons took off for Jackson, Wyo., which his advisers believed would play better in crucial swing states when voters headed to the polls.

Without a reelection on the horizon, Obama will, instead, jet off for the destination of his choosing.

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