President Obama hasn't officially announced his vacation schedule but already his opponents are making an issue of his tentative plans to return to Hawaii for the Christmas holidays.
"I just think it's time to have a president whose idea of being 'hands on' doesn't mean getting a better grip on the golf club," said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, referring to Obama's preference for being on the links during his vacations. Speaking at a "tele-town hall" with Iowa voters, Romney added: "He told Congress that they need to stay in session and pass his tax breaks for the payroll tax and that they shouldn't leave for vacation until they did that. And yet, he's going off for 17 days and for golf in the sun."
Obama said last weekend that Congress should pass his proposal to extend a payroll tax cut and "they shouldn't go home for the holidays until they get this done." But his own vacation plans aren't clear, including the number of days he will be away from Washington. He is widely expected to return to Hawaii, where he grew up and where he has returned for Christmas for many years. But White House officials say he will leave for his holiday late if that's what it takes to get Congress to act on the payroll tax cut extension.
If he does go to Hawaii, Obama can expect a continuing barrage of criticism. It's already started, as can be seen in comments sent this week to Politico's web site. It happens to nearly every president who leaves town for an extended period of R & R, especially when the country is suffering through an economic downturn or a war. As I point out in my recent book, From Mount Vernon to Crawford: A History of the Presidents and Their Retreats, criticizing a president's vacations has become a ritual in Washington, no matter who is in office.
President Dwight Eisenhower spent so much time at his Gettysburg farm--365 days over a span of six years, from 1955 to 1961 (his farm was under renovation before then and not habitable)--that his opponents went on the attack. Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Butler said Ike was a "part-time president."
More recently, President Ronald Reagan was criticized for his frequent visits to his Santa Barbara Ranch in California. In the summer of 1983, for example, he spent 25 days there, while unemployment was at 9.5 per cent.
George W. Bush spent 25 days at his Texas ranch in the summer of 2002 and 27 days in the summer of 2001.
Research by CBS News found that at similar points in their presidencies, Bush and Reagan had taken far more vacation days in total then Obama has.
Presidents deserve some time off, as every hard-working person does. But it's easy to criticize vacationing presidents because the "optics" of the commander in chief having fun seem so insensitive to those who are down on their luck. It's not fair, but Obama can expect this line of attack to gather steam as he plans his jaunt to the islands.