There’s been a recurring narrative in the major publications and cable news channels about the Obamas’ leisure time: that they’re wasting or abusing taxpayer money to enjoy life outside of the White House, or that they’re doing so in the “wrong” place. Their date in Manhattan, their recent trip to Maine, their plans to spend a week in Martha’s Vineyard; all have drawn criticism.
This week has seen renewed hubbub since Michelle Obama took Sasha to Spain for a few days. She is paying for all the things you and I would pay for if we were going (hotel room, meals, and transportation) but of course being First Lady comes with a hefty Secret Service entourage, not to mention a secure private jet. I’ll admit that this trip seems much more lavish than a Cosby Show “Women‘s Day” with Clair and Rudy, but whatever. (I wonder if Michelle is also telling Sasha, “Your father and I are rich. YOU have nothing!”)
I don’t fault Michelle for this. The first family shouldn’t be held to account for the modern realities of protection: I’m sure she would love to whisk Sasha away and disappear down the calles of España alone for a weekend.
Could she have seen that the optics of this upscale jet-setting would play poorly back home? Probably, and maybe she could have amended her plans domestically to reflect that, but it doesn’t really make a difference to me. The cost is what it is, and it’s worth it. Anything that keeps the first family happy, and thus the president in a clear, focused state of mind is a good investment.
Plus, I would imagine the Obamas are costing us less because their kids are young anyway. There’s not a team of five agents living with them in a perimeter as with Chelsea Clinton or the Bush daughters.
Besides, I don’t recall such outcry at George W. and Laura Bush’s use of Secret Service detail during vacations. They took some flap for heading to Crawford way too much, but the reasons behind that were much more about the perceptions of relaxing vs. active leadership during a time of war, which he sought, than the cost to the average Joe. Granted, they didn’t need to appear as austere since we weren’t in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression during those Texas trips, because Bush was, y’know, still causing it.
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I am holding out hope that the family’s next trip will garner as much attention as the Spanish holiday. It’s this coming weekend. Obama is putting his money where his mouth is and taking the first family to Florida’s Gulf Coast for some R&R. There, they will spend their cash to offset a spewing gusher of oil’s 100+ days of overcoming junk shots and top kills. Of course, the Miami Herald’s already kicked off the debate about whether the president will swim in the gulf.
Contrast this with Bush, who didnt go down to Katrina-land on vacation… though he sure was on vacation while it hit. In the immediate aftermath it would have looked bad with all the suffering, but he was still president for three years after it. Where was his local economy-boosting trip to Louisiana in 2006 or 2007?
A few weeks ago in Panama City Beach, FL Michelle Obama said, “One of the best ways that fellow Americans can help is to come on down here and spend some money.” Then, she went for a walk on the beach and dug her bare feet into the sand while flirting with the low surf. It was masterful PR. And this is an exemplary follow-through.
The first family’s presence will instill confidence in the regional economy in three ways. First, the money they spend there will literally help businesses that have suffered. Then, there is the massive security cohort that goes anywhere the president does: it has to eat and sleep somewhere (ka-ching). Lastly, there is the perceptive momentum of this visit: “If the president’s willing to take his family to the beach there, it can’t be that bad… I guess we’ll go after all.”
Now, there is one caveat to this Gulf weekend: only three Obamas are going. Malia is going to camp for the first time! Well, if you don’t count Camp David. (Does anyone else sense that Sasha gets to do all the good stuff? ) Expect extensive coverage on Brief Wit all summer long! The food, the bunk raids, color war, whether she still thinks boys are yucky, you name it!