For the third summer in a row, President Obama is headed to Martha’s Vineyard, that playground of the well heeled and pastel attired. And once again, critics are carping that the president shouldn’t be going on vacation, shouldn’t be hobnobbing with the rich, shouldn’t be leaving Washington when the country is in such dire straits.
While I get part of their critique, this annual rite gets more than a little old. The president is not a super human—just like everyone, he needs a little time off. And that’s probably all he’ll get. While he’ll be in Martha’s Vineyard for 10 days, the idea that he’ll be unplugged is naïve—he may fit in a few rounds of golf and bike rides with his kids, but there’s no way in today’s world he won’t be working.
In addition, the idea that he could get much done if he stayed in Washington is ridiculous—Congress is not in session, and anyone the president might try to meet with to move things forward is not in town either. (Washington in August may just be the single most miserably humid place on earth.)
Others say the optics aren’t good if the president is traipsing around a place with yachts and multi-million dollar homes when the economy is hurting this bad. I agree with this idea—to a point. A more contemplative, subdued getaway (a house overlooking a lake in the Adirondacks or the coast of Maine, for instance) might have been a better choice, and likely would have cost less in security. But expecting the president to take a more pedestrian, “real American” vacation—say, a trip to Disney World or a week at Myrtle Beach—is both impractical and silly.
If the president did change his plans, you can already imagine what that would prompt from the chattering classes. Headlines would scream that Obama was cowed into changing his holiday by the GOP. “He can’t even stand up to Republicans when it comes to his vacation,” the far left of his party would yell. And the optics of an isolated president standing by himself, looking ruefully over a lake in the mountains, might be just as dangerous as one of him shaking hands with a sun-kissed Democratic fundraiser on his way to the beach.
If Congress was in session—and I’ve been clear I think they should be, for at least part of the month—and if there were enough people around in D.C. to get things done, I’d be first to say that the president’s vacation should be shortened, if not cancelled outright. And I completely agree that a less posh locale would have been a wiser choice. There’s no doubt that the trip is a risk, but how much of one we won’t know for a while. The annual debate over the president’s vacation hasn’t been a deciding factor in any election I can recall in the past, and it probably won’t be in this one either. For the average voter, the number of photos of the president playing golf will be far outweighed by the number of new jobs they do, or don’t, see in their community.
More from On Leadership:
Paul O’Neill: Only the president can restart America’s engine
Laura Tyson:What it will take to bring back jobs
Michael Useem: Revising investor capitalism’s mantra