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Susan Estrich: Presidents Deserve to Vacation ... Just Like the Rest of Us

Every time President Barack Obama goes on vacation, roughly half the talking heads jump all over him.

They tally up how many days he’s spent on vacation or how many rounds of golf he’s played since he became president and then manage to remind us that we’re not taking vacations on fancy islands in houses that rent out for a princely sum.

When I say half do it, it’s because the Republican chatterers, most of them, pounce on Democrats and smoothly defend Republicans, and the Democrats do just the opposite. In the heat of summer, what else are you going to say?

And yes, it’s true that if it’s a cheap shot, it’s an easy one, particularly when more than half of us haven’t taken a vacation in the last 12 months.

I’m one of those people. This year, my excuse is that I was sick, and as soon as I was well enough, I went back to work.

But the year before? And the year before that? Truth is, now that my kids are grown and working and traveling on their own, I have no one pushing me to vacation, which is still no excuse, and I’ll be the first to say that people need time off.

My family never took vacations (for reasons related both to finances and preferences), so I missed out on those memories, but I certainly don’t begrudge the Obama family for taking the time together.

The truth is that presidents never really go on vacation. They can, and do, re-create the Oval Office wherever they go.

The responsibility doesn’t go away because they’re on vacation, nor does the urgency of things like the Iran nuclear deal decrease.

You can make calls as easily from a vacation spot as from the White House. Key advisers are instantly available. What makes it a vacation is a pretty place to wake up in and enjoy during breaks throughout the day; fewer meetings; more time with family and friends.

How can we begrudge this to the man who may have the hardest job in the world?

It’s doubtful that attacks on presidential vacations actually move any voters. If you like the president, you say, “Give the guy a break. Let him take some time with the family.” And if you don’t like him, you say (as Democrats did of President George W. Bush’s frequent trips to his ranch), “Does this guy ever work?” 

It’s silly, at least. Whether or not you approve of Obama’s performance as president, you certainly can’t say that his fault was a lack of trying or that he didn’t work hard enough, or “if only he had put in a few extra hours,” etc. It’s absurd.

Whatever his defects, those are not among them. As for Bush, last time I checked, all the valid criticism related to what he did, not what he didn’t do.

He got us involved in a war for fantasy weapons of mass destruction — that is what he is most criticized for.

The irony is that one of the best-loved presidents, Ronald Reagan, spent a lot time in California riding horses and seemed to have a helluva good time doing it.

I hope the Obamas do that. Why not? If I can’t pull myself together or carve out a break in my work schedule, that is certainly not the fault of the president of the United States.

He deserves his vacation, such as it is.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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