Rupert Cornwell: Why Obama's seaside break is making waves

Out of America: With the economy teetering on the brink of a fresh recession, many in the US seem to begrudge the President his summer holiday

Share
Related Topics

Hold the front page. Barack Obama has just embarked on a 10-day summer holiday on Martha's Vineyard, the upmarket resort island just south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. After the most gruelling and dispiriting spell of his presidency, who could possibly begrudge him a week and a half off? As it turns out, just about everybody. At one level, in a country that spends more time at work than practically anywhere else in the industrial world, the fuss reflects a peculiarly American unease at the idea of a proper "get away from it all" holiday. But a President can never get away from it all. The world doesn't stop because its most powerful inhabitant is trying to get a bit of R&R. Like many of his compatriots, the President takes his job with him. For them, that means a BlackBerry on the beach. For him, it's a mini-White House on the move.

British Prime Ministers can repair to the grouse moors, slip away to Tuscany or Provence, or stroll the mountain meadows of Austria – and unless the freeloading is especially egregious, no one takes the slightest notice. And where, by the way, did John Major and Jim Callaghan go on holiday? Who remembers, and who even cared at the time? Not so here.

Even on holiday, the US President never escapes the White House press pool. A spokesman gives daily briefings – slacks and an open-neck shirt their main concession to the less formal circumstances. Key White House advisers are never far away, nor is the famous briefcase with the nuclear weapons code.

And presidential holidays have a way of being disturbed. George HW Bush was fishing in Maine when the abortive Soviet coup was staged in August 1991. Fourteen years later, his son was at his ranch in Texas when Hurricane Katrina struck, and George W never recovered from his tardy and lethargic response to the catastrophe. Presidential holidays can be dangerously distracting things.

But above all, the furore is political, and never more so than now, when the opposing party's presidential candidates are cranking up their campaigns, the economy is teetering on the edge of a new recession, and ordinary Americans are worried not about their holidays, but about their jobs – that is, assuming they are fortunate enough to have jobs.

Even some Democrats are worried that Obama is sending the wrong message by his choice of destination. For his foes, it is a case of the pampered emperor fiddling while Rome burns, and last week the Republican National Committee even opened a website, ObamaGetAway.com, on which you can choose from a selection of postcards depicting the 44th President at play. "Wish you happy job-hunting from sunny Martha's Vineyard," reads the message on one.

God forbid Obama had ever decided to spend his 10 days in Tuscany: congressional Republicans would have sought to impeach him for un-American activities and treasonous consorting with foreigners. But the Vineyard, that summer playground of wealthy, arugula-fancying, sauvignon blanc-sipping lefties, is bad enough.

This sort of criticism, it should be said, is as old as the republic. Back in 1799, the second President, John Adams, was savaged for spending months at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts, even though he had solid excuses: his beloved wife Abigail was extremely ill, and in those days summer-time Washington was a malarial swamp. But it's got much worse in the modern era – and Democrats seem to bear the brunt of it.

Paradoxically, that may be because they tend to be less rich. The big holiday-takers among recent Presidents have been the Republicans, none more so than Bush the son, who by this stage of his presidency had spent 181 days, or six months, at his ranch. Pity the poor hacks assigned to cover him: Dubya's idea of summer holiday fun was chopping brush and mountain-biking in the dusty 100 degree-plus temperatures of the empty plains of central Texas.

His father also liked his holidays, but those were in the rather more agreeable surrounds of the Bush family mansion, on a rocky promontory jutting out into the Atlantic. (I still have a faded pale blue polo shirt from those years, bearing the crest "Summer White House 1992, Kennebunkport, Maine"). Ronald Reagan was never happier than on his ranch in the hills, up above Santa Barbara, California, and Nixon had his western White House at San Clemente – though the famously stiff Nixon never managed to take his tie off, even for photo-ops by the Pacific surf. But the important thing was, these Presidents already had holiday homes. And Americans reasoned, what harm that they use them?

By comparison, Democratic Presidents have been positively Stakhanovite. Obama so far has clocked up just 61 days off, while Bill Clinton, at this moment in his presidency, had taken only 23 days of vacation. Neither, alas, owned a holiday property of their own. Nobody much minded when Obama rented a $3,500 (£2,150)-a-night place in Honolulu for Christmas and the New Year – after all, Hawaii was where he grew up. But the Vineyard is another matter.

For some reason, Democrats love the place. Clinton hated holidays but spent a week there during his first years in office. Then re-election loomed. Famously, Clinton had a poll taken to see which holiday location went down best with voters. Out west, came the answer, so an unhappy President spent chunks of August 1995 and 1996 living the outdoor life in Wyoming.

Obama, to his credit, is having none of that. Maybe he could score some brownie points by taking his family on a "typical" domestic holiday to Disneyland, the Delaware beaches, or some national park (safely within US borders, of course). But even then, hotels would have to be booked and special communications set up, amid security precautions, making life a misery for all and sundry.

The Vineyard, however, knows the score, and doesn't seem to mind. And if it makes Obama happy, so much the better. The American presidency is arguably the most nerve-racking and generally impossible job on earth. Surely the man deserves a decent break?



React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor