There is an uproar over President Obama’s vacation. And once again the charge is hypocrisy. He is a president who champions public schools for the masses, while sending his own daughters to private schools. And in this case, a president who urges us to visit the beaches of the devastated Gulf while he slips away to Maine. But all the uproar over Obama’s summer vacation should be seen in context. Presidents have always taken time off. And most observers think they should.
In 2000, when the Supreme Court finally declared that George W. Bush was the president-elect and he made his historic flight back to Washington on Air Force One, a friend of mine was onboard. He said that the plane was practically empty. No family members, only a couple of staffers and my friend, who was a journalist. Bush quickly turned the tables on the journalist and asked him the first question.
“How many days did Ronald Reagan spend on his ranch in California?”
Bush was already groaning under the pressure and he had not yet been inaugurated for spent a single day in office. He would pass Reagan’s days off but by no means set the record for a modern president.
The record, if it can be called that, belongs to Lyndon B. Johnson who served 5.5 years in office and spent well over one of those years at his Texas ranch. 484 days to be exact. And the record for the fewest days off belongs to Jimmy Carter, who took off only 79 days.
President Kennedy loved his time off and the Kennedy family had all kinds of retreats. There was the family compound with multiple homes at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, the home in Palm Beach, Florida, and of course the President had Camp David and just in case they needed it, another home in the Virginia fox country, an hour outside of Washington, D. C.
Eisenhower wanted to get rid of Camp David. It reminded him of Franklin D. Roosevelt who had purchased the place. Only his wife Mamie, who liked it, and the fact that he was able to successfully rename it after his grandson, David Eisenhower, made him finally decide to keep it. Not that Eisenhower didn’t like to take time off. He was an avid, year round, golfer.
The work of a president is making decisions. And that work never stops. Even when they sleep. Woodrow Wilson was scandalized by the pace. It had been the family tradition for him to spend his evening with his wife and daughters reading together but after a few frustrating evenings he confessed that he was exasperated. He said he was being forced to make decisions without any reflection. “I can’t even take a walk to think it through.”
In earlier times, when it took three months to get a pair of scissors from Europe, decisions were more deliberate and less predictable. James Madison once took a four month long vacation. The business of the nation could simply wait.
No president would likely find fault with Barack Obama, for going where he wants to go or even when. Nixon strongly urged his successors to take time off to reflect, to walk the beach. This crisis will pass and the nation will survive. One may disagree with Obama on the direction of the country. The direction of his family vacation this summer, should be his own.