There they go again. For the fifth time since July, the first family has set plans to board Air Force One for a frilly vacation, a 10-day return trip to exclusive Martha's Vineyard where they are expected to stay at the 28-acre oceanfront Blue Heron Farm that rents for up to $50,000 a week.
But first the Obamas will be traveling to the Gulf Coast of Florida for a mini-vacation as a way to encourage other vacationing Americans to head to the beaches that have been shunned by tourists worried about oil-slicked sands due to the Gulf oil spill. They are expected to travel to Florida this weekend, return to Washington for a few days then it's off to the Massachusetts island August 19. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
This weekend's jaunt was announced after first lady Michelle Obama said during a recent trip to Panama City Beach, Florida that, "One of the best ways that fellow Americans can help is to come on down here and spend some money," She's expected to be joined by the president and 9-year old Sasha. Malia, 12, is away at camp for the first time at an undisclosed location.
As with most of the Obama vacation's this year, even the Florida trip has been criticized. This time, amazingly, for being too short. At yesterday's press briefing, deputy spokesman Bill Burton faced questions about the overnight trip, saying, "They've already spent a lot of time in the Gulf." Spelling out their plans, he said, "eating the food, the seafood, hanging out with the great folks who live there, and taking a look at how things are going for those folks." [See photos of Michelle Obama.]
The 10-day Vineyard trip will likely also be met with criticism from those who think the president should downscale and travel to Camp David or back home to Chicago. Like former President Clinton, he doesn't have a ranch like former Presidents George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, or a beachside resort like former President George H.W. Bush.
Presidential scholar Stephen Hess, of the Brookings Institution, said the president should ignore the whiners and have fun. "The history of presidents' vacations is that they can do no right. So my advice to the Obamas is while the economy needs stimulating, they should spend-spend-spend and, of course, try to have a good time," he told Whispers.
The GOP spokesman Doug Heye had a different take. "It's not any particular vacation that is the problem. There is a larger issue and that's the president's lackadaisical approach the presidency and the challenges we face, which manifests itself in an attitude where his initial inclination was not to pick up the phone and demand answers from BP but instead to pick up the phone and demand a tee time. In 2008, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and even Barack Obama himself questioned whether Obama was up to the task. It turns out they were right—and that is troubling for all Americans," he says.
There are two angles to the criticism: The Obamas are flaunting their status at a time of economic hardship around the country and the costs to taxpayers are too high. The White House, and all past White Houses for that matter, dismiss the criticisms. But for the record, an administration official addressed the cost issue to Whispers, saying, "hotel bills and restaurants are paid for privately. Security and transportation fall under the same rules as have applied to any previous first family travel—the costs are split appropriately with private expenses paid for privately. Government expenses are paid for by the government," says the official.
A previous East Wing worker in a different administration added, "In the past, the first family pays their expenses and those of their guests, unless the guests are paying for themselves. Taxpayers do pay for the cost of security but that would be true no matter where they are since they have round the clock security. In terms of travel it varies: some will reimburse the government for cost of first class flight."
Despite all the criticism of the presidential vacations, especially Michelle and Sasha's recent summer trip overseas to Spain's ritzy Costa del Sol, Obama still has some catching up to do when compared to the days that former president Bush was out of town, mostly at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
For a recap, here is this year's Obama Travelogue:
-Full family Christmas and New Years in Hawaii.
-March spring break-first lady Michelle Obama, mom Marian Robinson, and both daughters hit Broadway.
-Memorial Day in Chicago with the family.
-Three days in July in Maine, primarily tony Bar Harbor.
-Last week, the president traveled to Chicago for a birthday party with Oprah and others.
-Michelle and Sasha spent much of last week on Spain's southern coast, ending it with a trip to Majorca to meet the king and queen of Spain.
-Florida this weekend for a night on the Gulf Coast.
-August 19-29 on Martha's Vineyard.