Let's take a timeout when it comes to White House vacations

Let the first family vacation in peace

August 24, 2010

Here is an idea for the dog days of August: Let's not fight over vacation.

Of course, every family has the right to squabble among itself on this topic. Some will lobby for the beach. Others will argue for the mountains. A few, usually those paying the bill, will advocate staying close to home. This is a matter that should be resolved "en famille."

We feel that way about the first family's vacations as well. We propose that when it comes to taking potshots at the president over where he and his family take their time off, Americans take a "time out."

What purpose was served by all those snarky remarks about the long vacations President George W. Bush and his family took at their ranch in Crawford, Texas? Did the criticisms about Mr. Bush's extended breaks from work change the policies of his administration or its standing in history? We think not.

Similarly, the harping about President Barack Obama and his family spending 10 days on Martha's Vineyard seems harsh. Yes, many Americans, including those out of work, would love to spend time on the 28-acre spread that sports a basketball court, beach access and golf practice tee. Owned by a Republican, the spot rents for $35,000 to $50,000 a week, an expense the Obamas are covering.

But history shows that presidents who have wrestled with high unemployment, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, took breathers in the summer. While Mr. Roosevelt vacationed in Warms Spring, Ga., he outlined New Deal policies that pulled the nation out of the Great Depression. Mr. Obama should be so lucky.

Some seasoned political observers contend that the Obamas would have been wise to take their vacation in more modest surroundings: at Camp David, perhaps, or in a national park. Maybe. But our experience is that when politics motivates the family vacation — spending a few days where you'd rather not be (at the in-laws' for instance) — you lose on all fronts. Your kids are unhappy and your hosts feel slighted by your short stay. Something like that happened recently when the Obamas made their overnight visit to the Gulf Coast. Instead of a fun family outing, it ended up looking like a guilt trip.

The best course, it seems to us, is to allow the president to get out of Washington and spend a few days with his family members at a spot of their choosing.

Once he gets back in the White House, he is fair game for critics. But when he is on vacation, he is a guy spending downtime with his wife and kids, trying to mellow out. Something we all might attempt as August winds down.

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