Maybe there’s something about presidential vacations that many folks find irksome on a reflexive level. Americans may think that presidents shouldn’t take off when there’s so much work to be done.
But RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is taking these attitudes to a very silly level.
Obama is vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard as the rival party meets in the state. Asked if he was OK with the president taking a holiday amid several high-profile problems, Priebus said he’s “not going to get into that” – before then getting into it.
“I think he has a lot of work to do, he’s the king of golf and vacations and I guess it’s par for the course,” he said. “I don’t think he cares that much.”
Look, I realize RNC chairs are going to take cheap shots at Democratic presidents, even when it doesn’t make sense. But on a story like this, Priebus’ first instinct – he wasn’t “going to get into that” – was the one he should have listened to.
First, President Obama is taking an eight-day break because, well, humans in stressful jobs occasionally need to take a breather. But for Republicans to make hay out of this is absurd – Obama has taken 87 days off since his first inauguration, and at the comparable point in George W. Bush’s presidency, Obama’s Republican predecessor had taken 399 days off. Remember this chart?
At this point, I imagine conservatives are asking, “Why is it Bush’s days off were fair game for criticism but Obama’s aren’t?” The answer is pretty straightforward: it’s because Bush’s time away from the office was extraordinary. No modern president ever took as much time off as he did.
Bush’s vacation days, in other words, became noteworthy because they were record-breaking.
For every day off Obama has taken, Bush took 4.5 days off over a comparable period of time. To hear Reince Priebus tell it, Obama’s vacation time suggest he just doesn’t “care that much” about the nation’s problems. If that’s true, by Priebus’ standards, George W. Bush practically forgot Americans exist, didn’t want to return our calls, and looked away from us to avoid making eye contact.
And then, of course, there’s Congress.
The RNC chair is complaining about the president taking eight days off, but Congress is in the middle of a four-week break. When they return, House Republicans have arranged their schedule so that they only have to work nine days in September.
To borrow Priebus’ rhetoric, Congress “has a lot of work to do,” but doesn’t seem especially interested in doing it. I suppose that means House Speaker John Boehner and his caucus don’t care that much?
Update: Barbara Morrill writes in to suggest a third column in the above chart, since Ronald Reagan was at 180 vacation days at this point in his presidency. Good idea!