There’s a lot of talk about Michelle and Sasha Obama’s mother-daughter trip with 40 friends to a ritzy resort on the coast of Spain, and some of the commentary is a little harsh. Andrea Tantaros of the New York Daily News calls the first lady a “material girl” and a “modern-day Marie Antoinette”--but she also brings up a valid point about the cost to taxpayers of taking an estimated 70 Secret Service agents and Air Force Two on an overseas vacation. Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post writes that the attacks are unfair and that it’s not reasonable to expect the first family to have a “stay-cation” in Washington, cleaning out closets at the White House.
Maureen Dowd’s column on this in the Sunday New York Times quotes Obama adviser David Axelrod saying that “not everything is political theater.” Axelrod continued, “Folks in the public eye are also human beings ... If you have the ability to show your kid a part of the world and you can do that together before they get to the age where they don’t want to do anything with you, I don’t think it’s right that you have to defer it because of the politics.”
He makes a good point, and I’m a big fan of foreign travel for kids. I’m also all for mother-daughter trips together. But surely the Obamas have enough foreign travel coming up--to places other than five-star resorts--where the girls can see how people from other nations live and what it’s like for kids who aren’t as blessed as they are. The president’s canceled trip to Asia hasn’t been rescheduled yet, but why not take the girls along, even if they have to miss some school? The only time I ever got to travel to a far-off place when I was a kid was when I accompanied my dad on a business trip. I suspect kids who can do that learn a lot more than they would have in the classroom.
Part of the problem with the trip to Spain is that Mrs. Obama was photographed wearing clothes by Jean Paul Gaultier, an expensive haute-couture French designer. Glamour magazine’s coverage (with photos) calls her “an ambassador of total glam when she travels.” Of course we all want the first lady to look great, but choosing way-out-there expensive designers like Gaultier might be feeding the narrative that there’s a disconnect between the White House and the rest of the country. I think Mrs. Obama does a great thing when she chooses up-and-coming American designers--as she did when she asked Jason Wu to do her inaugural gown--or when she mixes edgy American designs with J. Crew standards.
If I were first lady, I’d have two rules: When out in public, I’d only wear clothes by American designers, and when on vacation, I’d only go to towns inside the United States.
Think of the excitement if Mrs. Obama had convinced her 40 friends to stay at an expensive resort (and there are plenty) on the Gulf Coast or in Florida. Or if they’d gone to see the Tetons or the Grand Canyon or Santa Fe or Macinaw Island. How about taking over a luxury resort at Half Moon Bay? The California economy could certainly use the business. The Obamas are already scheduled to go to Martha’s Vineyard, which is great. They need to have more vacations like that: an opportunity to have fun with friends while also sending a strong message of support for America’s small businesses and small towns.