An active first family is on the move in Maine

The presidential family -- yes, Bo the dog, too -- goes on a family vacation.
By Felicia Sonmez
Sunday, July 18, 2010

BAR HARBOR, MAINE -- President Obama and his family aren't just getting outside the Beltway on their brief vacation here -- they're getting outside, period.

Since their arrival Friday afternoon, the Obamas have been biking, hiking and boating their way around Mount Desert Island, the third-largest island on the Eastern Seaboard and home to the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park.

The first stop Friday was a 90-minute bike ride on the lushly wooded trails around Witch Hole Pond at the northern end of the island. Then came a family hike on Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet the highest peak on the East Coast.

The Obamas rounded out their first day with a National Park Service boat ride on Frenchman Bay and a waterfront dinner at Stewman's Lobster Pound. Even dinner was outdoors: The first family, who arrived at the restaurant via boat, sat at a table on a pier overlooking the bay. The president and the first lady dined on lobster, while their daughters shared a shrimp basket, according to restaurant manager Jeff Buffington.

Diners on the pier may have been pleasantly surprised, but back in Washington and elsewhere some saw hypocrisy in the first family's two-day trip. On a recent trip to the Gulf of Mexico, Michelle Obama encouraged other Americans to visit the oil-fouled region.

Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin took a shot last week in a column titled, "Michelle Obama: Take Your Vacation in the Gulf, America -- If You Need Us, We'll Be in Maine." And Scott Stanzel, a deputy press secretary during the administration of George W. Bush, said on Fox News that the president could be "setting an example" but "has chosen not to do that."

White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton defended Obama's mini-vacation. "I don't think that there's a person in this country [who] doesn't think that their president ought to have a little time to clear his mind," Burton told the Associated Press ahead of the trip.

The optics of presidential vacations are always an issue -- and this one is no different. Ronald Reagan spent time at his beloved Rancho del Cielo near Santa Barbara, Calif., much of it on horseback. Bush retreated to his ranch in Crawford, Tex., where he was fond of clearing brush.

On Saturday, the Obamas played tennis in the morning at the Bar Harbor Club, an elegant compound constructed by J.P. Morgan in 1929. In the afternoon, they traveled to Southwest Harbor, where they grabbed lunch at the waterfront Claremont Hotel before taking in the sights at the Bass Harbor Head lighthouse.

Meanwhile, in a weekly address recorded before he left Washington, Obama on Saturday accused Republicans of obstructing assistance for the unemployed and blocking efforts to increase lending to small businesses. (Republicans say they are concerned that the benefits would raise the deficit.)

"Think about what these stalling tactics mean for the millions of Americans who've lost their jobs since the recession began. Over the past several weeks, more than 2 million of them have seen their unemployment insurance expire. For many, it was the only way to make ends meet while searching for work -- the only way to cover rent, utilities, even food," he said.

The vacation follows one the first family took last summer to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park, where they spent time whitewater rafting and peach-picking .The first family's latest getaway has been relatively free of interruption. Perhaps the only reminder this weekend of the political pressures facing Obama came Saturday afternoon, when a handful of war protesters gathered at the downtown Village Green.

Patty Ryan, one of the protest's organizers, said the group had been holding protests every Sunday, beginning the week after Sept. 11, 2001, but ending on the day Obama was elected, "to give him a chance." Asked whether Saturday's event meant that the protests will resume, Ryan said the group will "probably have a discussion about that."

"It's a big commitment," she said, adding: "We live in paradise."

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