President Obama plans to leave Washington Friday for a lengthy vacation in Hawaii with his family, which is likely to set off the customary round of criticism that he takes too much time off and spends taxpayer money too lavishly.
Obama was born in Hawaii and spent many of his formative years there, so his friends say he is really going home when he visits and no one should begrudge him that. He is expected to spend 17 days in Honolulu.
Last year, Obama interrupted his holiday in Hawaii to battle congressional Republicans in Washington over fiscal issues. This time, no such fight is brewing because the House has already passed a budget plan and the Senate is expected to follow suit this week. So Obama is likely to spend more than two full weeks at a rented seaside estate in the islands. It will be the first family's sixth Christmas vacation in Hawaii since Obama was elected president in 2008.
As I point out in my book, "From Mount Vernon to Crawford: A History of the Presidents and Their Retreats," criticizing presidents for their holiday habits is nothing new. John Adams, the nation's second president, was pilloried for his frequent trips home to Massachusetts. Dwight Eisenhower was criticized for being a "part-time president" because of his numerous holidays and golf outings. Ronald Reagan was ridiculed for spending too much time at his California ranch, as George W. Bush was derided for his vacations at his Texas ranch.
The problem for Obama is that he is vacationing at place that is very far from Washington, and the costs for operating the Boeing 747 he will use as Air Force One are enormous. The Congressional Research Service estimated in May 2012 that it cost $179,750 per hour to operate the president's plane. Costs for security and communication are also very high, so the tab for his Hawaii vacations is estimated at several million dollars per trip.
Another potential problem is the optics. Obama is likely to play lots of golf and spend time on the beach. This may not sit well with Americans struggling to make ends meet or having trouble finding health insurance because of problems with Obama's new health care law.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.