During his time there President Obama will be experiencing the kind of luxury that the vast majority of ordinary Americans can only dream about: Barack Obama will be staying in a compound which costs more to rent for a single week than most American households earn in a year.
If last summer is any indication, Obama will probably hit the links at the Vineyard Golf Club, catch up on his summer reading at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore and ride bikes with daughters Malia and Sasha at the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, a 5,100-acre preserve with 15 miles of bike trails.
In previous years Obama’s expensive vacations have attracted relatively little attention from the US media, with the exception of Michelle Obama’s trip to southern Spain last August, which led to her being dubbed a “modern-day Marie Antoinette” by one columnist. This year, however, Obama’s luxurious vacation arises a lot of questions and criticism.
With 14 million Americans out of work, a volatile stock market and a historic downgrade of the country’s credit rating, President Obama is set to begin a 10-day retreat Thursday at a 28-acre Martha’s Vineyard compound called Blue Heron Farm, which costs an estimated $50,000 per week to rent.
That divide — and the presumed hypocrisy of a president who has pledged not to rest “until every American looking for a job can find one,” going golfing and biking on an island playground for wealthy celebrities — has been too much for political pundits to resist.
“If I were president today, I wouldn’t be looking to go spend 10 days on Martha’s Vineyard,” GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a Chicago radio station Wednesday.
Though the Obamas spent time in Martha’s Vineyard before entering the White House, the president’s critics have suggested he consider alternative locales, such as his home town of Chicago or Camp David. Others have called on him to cancel the trip, remain in Washington and demand Congress call off its summer recess to work with him on new job bills.
The most recent unemployment figures for Cape Cod and the islands, including Martha’s Vineyard, show the rate has spiked since 2008, swinging as high as 13.1 percent in January 2011, up from 6.4 percent in the same month three years earlier.
So far, the administration has held firm on the president’s right to “spend some time with his family,” as White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Besides, he added, a president is never really on vacation because “the presidency travels with you.”
“He will be in constant communication and get regular briefings from his national security team as well as his economic team,” Carney said. “And he will, of course, be fully capable, if necessary, of traveling back if that were required. It is not very far.”
“Some folks were asking me, well, why don’t you just call Congress back?” Obama told a crowd of 500 in Cannon Falls, Minn., on his first stop on the bus tour Monday. “And I said, you know, I don’t think it’s going to make people feel real encouraged if we have Congress come back and all they’re doing is arguing again.”
Obama is not the first president to catch grief for appearing insensitive to the country’s plight while engaged in recreational pursuits. Harry Truman was regularly mocked for wearing Hawaiian-style flowered shirts on his many jaunts to Key West, Fla., during the post-World War II era. Dwight Eisenhower spent 365 days at his farm in Gettysburg, Pa., over six years, prompting the Democratic National Committee chairman to label him a “part-time president.”
Bill Clinton, vacationed each summer in Martha’s Vineyard. But in 1995, with the economy struggling and his reelection campaign underway, Clinton famously heeded the advice of strategist Dick Morris and went camping in Wyoming instead.