Obama’s Endless Vacation
In the 1990s, America had a holiday from history. Today, it has a president on holiday.
President Barack Obama rides a bike on Martha’s Vineyard, August 15, 2014.
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The headline was brutal. “Bam’s Golf War: Prez tees off as Foley’s parents grieve,” read the cover of Thursday’s New York Daily News. Obama’s gaffe was this: He had denounced the beheading of James Foley from a vacation spot in Martha’s Vineyard, then went to the golf course. Seems like he had a great time. Such a great time that he returned to the Farm Neck Golf Club — sorry, membership is full — the next day.

Technically, Obama’s vacation began on August 9. It is scheduled to end on Sunday, August 24. With the exception of a two-day interlude in D.C., it has been two weeks of golf, jazz, biking, beach going, dining out, celebrating, and sniping from critics, not all of them conservative, who are unnerved by the president’s taking time off at a moment of peril.

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Attacking the president for vacation is usually the job of the out party. But these days it is the job of all parties. Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, the Islamic State, Ebola, child migrants on the border, racial strife in Ferguson, an American murdered by the caliphate — critics say the president who danced to every song at Ann Jordan’s birthday party seems remote and aloof from, and even mildly annoyed by, such concerns.

I disagree. Not with the judgment that Obama is detached, dialing it in, contemptuous of events that interfere with his plans. I disagree with the idea that this August has been different, in any meaningful way, from the rest of Obama’s second term. For this president, the distinction between “time off” and “time on” is meaningless. For this president, every day is a vacation. And has been for some time. He is like Cosmo Kramer of Seinfeld. “His whole life is a fantasy camp,” George Costanza says of his friend. “People should plunk down $2,000 to live like him for a week.” Imagine what they would pay to live like Obama.

Uncomfortable with all of the golf on Martha’s Vineyard? It is but a fraction of Obama’s habit. Since 2009, the president has played more than 185 rounds, typically with Wall Street cronies such as Robert Wolf and sports celebrities such as Alonzo Mourning, Tony Kornheiser, and Michael Wilbon. So devoted to golf is Obama that he wears Game Golf, which tracks how well a golfer shoots. Game Golf is not something you wear as a lark. You use it to study and hone your game. The hours on the course are just the start; there are also the hours spent analyzing results at home. Obama is not golfing like an amateur. He’s golfing like a man who wants to join the PGA tour.

While on vacation, the Obamas dined at Atria, where the cioppino costs $42 and sides include olive-oil-whipped potatoes and truffle parmesan fries. But fine dining is not something the Obamas limit to the beach. They are foodies, patronizing the best restaurants in Chicago, D.C., Old Town, New York, Key Largo, and Los Angeles. I have been to some of these restaurants; the president has great taste. Recently, as part of his “bear is loose” shtick, he has visited sandwich places, bars, and coffee shops. He meets the public, he becomes associated with a fashionable locale, and he spends a few dollars on small businesses. It’s a good thing. Here, at last, is an Obama initiative that does not harm the economy.

Good food is not a luxury for Obama. It is a staple. Before the president departed for Martha’s Vineyard, he shared a limo ride with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. The general explained to the president the situation in Iraq. He warned of horrible consequences for the Yazidis, for Iraq, and for the United States if the jihadists conquered Mount Sinjar and took Erbil. Obama decided to meet with his national-security team. The presidential limo was diverted. Guess where it had been going. “The Italian dinner in Georgetown with Michelle Obama would have to wait,” Politico reported.

Think two weeks in Martha’s Vineyard sends the wrong message? On July 31, Katy Perry performed at the White House. She was there to celebrate the Special Olympics — a worthy cause. But the same standard applies. If cutting loose in Martha’s Vineyard while the Islamic State is rampaging abroad is “bad optics,” so is hosting a teenage dream while, in the words of Chuck Hagel, the “Middle East is blowing up.” “Propriety” is not a word one associates with Katy Perry. The refrain of her latest hit: “So let me get you in your birthday suit / It’s time to bring out the big balloons.” She’s not talking about party favors.