Maybe it’s something about August. Congress isn’t in session; the Supreme Court isn’t releasing opinions; and the president usually takes some vacation time, creating fairly uneventful conditions for the Beltway media. The inactivity seems to convince some in the media that President Obama’s golf game is fascinating.
The pitch is no doubt familiar: given international developments and challenges here at home, there are bad “optics” when the president takes some downtime and hits the links. (The last time this came up in earnest, not coincidentally, was mid-August 2013.)
What’s odd about the pitch, however, is the degree to which Obama generates complaints, even though he takes far less time off than his predecessor. Yahoo’s Olivier Knox, citing data from CBS’s Mark Knoller, published a helpful comparison.
As of August 12, 2014, Obama has taken 20 “vacations” lasting 2 to 15 days. He has spent all or part of 129 days on “vacation.” […]At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, he had taken 58 trips to his Prairie Chapel ranch near Crawford, Texas, for all or part of 381 days. (Bush also frequently used the property to host world leaders). Bush had also spent all or part of 26 days at his family’s oceanside compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, over the course of seven trips there.
These figures don’t include time at Camp David, the official presidential retreat, which Knoller doesn’t count as “vacation.”
Perhaps it’s time for another chart.
At this point, Bush’s defenders usually argue that there is no double standard: Bush was often criticized for his many days off, and now Obama is taking similar heat. That’s fine, except the comparison is skewed: as we discussed last year at this time, Bush’s vacation days became noteworthy because they were record-breaking. No modern president ever took as much time off as he did.
Indeed, Obama practically never leaves the Oval Office compared to the last couple of two-term Republican presidents.
What’s more, all of this attention on Obama’s occasional breaks seems to miss the other more salient point: Congress is in the middle of a five-week break and has spent the year doing very little work at all. They’ll give themselves another two weeks off in September, before working a total of two days in October.
So what’s with the preoccupation with Obama’s downtime?