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BY JOHN FUND – The White House is in full spin mode following public criticism of First Lady Michelle Obama’s private vacation to Spain.

Aides have scrambled to correct the record: Ms. Obama was vacationing with two women friends who paid for their own expenses. She was only accompanied by eight White House staffers. The fact that she stayed at a five-star Ritz-Carlton resort was put down to security concerns.

At the same time, the White House also tried to insist that questions about the trip were off-limits. “The first lady is on a private trip. She is a private citizen and is the mother of a daughter on a private trip. And I think I’d leave it at that,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

But, as Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times notes, Mrs. Obama oversees a major Obama program on children’s health and supervises an East Wing staff responsible for every special event in the White House, from bill signings to state dinners. “Mrs. Obama is a public figure and it is reasonable to ask how she spends taxpayer resources,” Ms. Sweet noted.

There is also no denying the imagery of the First Lady hobnobbing with Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia at their summer palace was all wrong in the midst of tough economic times back home. “Most Americans are just not going to relate to going to Spain,” Democratic analyst Kirsten Powers told Fox News. “Politically, it is absolutely tone-deaf. I can’t even believe that she has done it, frankly. It is not what people do in their first term.”

The mishandling of the First Lady’s vacation is a far cry from the skill with which Bill and Hillary Clinton used to handle their sojourns. After his party took a drubbing in the 1994 mid-term elections, Mr. Clinton even had a survey taken on where he should go on vacation. As a result, he opted for a camping trip in the Grand Tetons rather than his usual haunts on tony Martha’s Vineyard. It may sound calculating, but with that kind of careful attention to public opinion, Mr. Clinton won a landslide re-election only 18 months later.

John Fund is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal

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