Escaping the Great White Jail; Perils of a Presidential Vacation

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Every president needs to escape what former President Harry Truman called the "great white jail" and what former President Andrew Jackson referred to as "dignified slavery." But for President Obama and some of his more recent predecessors, getting out of the White House has come at a cost.
The on-going BP oil spill and unemployment numbers that are still at 9.5 percent, have made Obama and his vacations a target.  The crisis in the Gulf has dogged Mr. Obama during two long weekend trips away from Washington - one to Asheville, N.C., and another back to his Chicago home for Memorial Day. Nonetheless, even before the oil well was capped off Thursday, plans were being made for the first family to enjoy another mini-vacation, this time in the coastal Maine town of Bar Harbor. The decision to head north is a choice not lost on some, especially when the president and first lady have encouraged Americans to travel south to Florida and other tourist starved areas along the Gulf of Mexico.  Scott Stanzel, former Deputy Press Secretary for President George W. Bush, told Fox News, "at a time he could be setting an example...he has chosen not to do that."

Republicans have also targeted the president particularly hard for the number of golf outings he's taken since the beginning of the BP oil spill crisis, especially one round during the first initial days of the spill when the president and first lady escaped for a weekend getaway to Asheville, N.C.  President Obama's penchant for golfing - nearly 10 times in the 12 weeks since the April 20th explosion that killed eleven men - has led republicans to chronicle each time he picks up his clubs.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the president of being out of touch.  The Kentucky senator told a group of young republicans during a leadership conference, "scheduling more tee times than Phil Mickelson during the greatest environmental disaster in our nation's history is out of touch."
Former President George W. Bush was also hit hard by another environmental disaster - Hurricane Katrina - even forcing Mr. Bush to cut short a summer vacation at his Crawford, Texas ranch to travel back to Washington and deal with the crisis.  And the image of Bush looking out over the flooded coast, far above from Air Force One, did nothing for his presidential image as critics complained Bush was too far away to offer help or feel the victims' pain.

Bush was often criticized for the length of time downtime he spent at his ranch, but as Stanzel points out, presidents aren't really afforded vacation time.  "We had an infrastructure in Crawford where the president continued to perform the duties much the way he might when he was at the White House," Stanzel told Fox News White House Correspondent Wendell Goler.

In the early 1990's, democrats criticized then President George H.W. Bush, for the image of the 41st president in a golf cart, charging he was out of touch with the recession at the time, and couldn't relate to Americans' pain.

But Presidential historian Doug Wead says every president is on the clock, even during a vacation, and that time is not really personal.  "There's nothing really private. So where a president takes his vacation and what scenes are shown to the public, all of that is thoroughly thought through,"  Wead said in an interview with Goler.

While a vacation may help President Obama relax, it probably won't help his poll numbers.  A Fox News poll released Thursday finds that 43 percent of voters approve of the job Obama's doing, matching a previous low in early April.  That number has dropped from just two weeks ago when those questioned gave Mr. Obama a 47 percent approval rating.