CHARLEYWORLD: How Presidents Spent Their Vacations Throughout History

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BY CHARLES MEMMINGER – President Obama’s 10-day vacation in Martha’s Vineyard is being criticized by some for coming at the same time the stock market dove like a Blue-footed Booby with its butt feathers on fire and with unemployment at eye-popping, teeth-chattering, fingernail-gnawing levels.

But Obama got a bit of a reprieve when Libyan rebels backed by NATO jets sent Col. Muammar Gaddafi into hiding, proving that it is possible to oversee the overthrow of a country from a golf cart at the Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Mass.


Obama supporters point out that the president has taken far fewer vacation days than President George W. Bush. Which is true. But when you consider the choice of vacation venues, George Bush’s 180 days of brush clearing in dry, dusty, hot Crawford, Texas was more like a prison work release program than a vacation.

I was critical of Bush taking so much vacation when he was in office. Mainly because it was Bush who took us to war in Iraq for reasons I’ve yet to understand. My position was that a president shouldn’t take any vacation when the country is at war. Period.  It just seems … rude.

My position on presidential vacations has become more nuanced now that it is impossible to call these interminable periods of military unpleasantness around the world “wars.” A “war” is something that comes to an end. What’s happening today are unending martial shindigs. (We technically still are at real war with North Korea. We’ve just been taking a 53 year “time out” and hostilities presumably will resume after recess.)

So you can’t begrudge a president taking a vacation even when the economy sucks and guns are firing. Presidents need vacations to counter the immense pressure they are under to raise money for their reelections. No one can deny that Obama’s three years in office have been grueling. Obama’s hair has turned grey faster than Henry IV of France after his escape from the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572.

Just to put this whole presidential vacation issue in context, I went back and looked at famous presidential vacations in history:

— July 4, 1790: President George Washington takes one day of vacation to have a new set of choppers carved and fitted. Fewest vacation days ever taken by a president.

— 1801 to 1809: President Thomas Jefferson takes 462 days of vacation in France, mostly with his slave Sally Hemings, who the news media curiously referred to as his “traveling companion.”

— April 15, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln takes a few days off from the Civil War on a mini-vacation that includes a stop at Ford’s Theatre to see a popular stage play. Turns out to be worst vacation in history of presidential vacations.

— 1901 to 1909: President Teddy Roosevelt takes several “wilderness” vacations, all of them involving shooting large unarmed animals in Yosemite National Park, cutting off their heads and decorating White House walls with them. Bully! Bully!

— 1910: President William Howard Taft takes a three week vacation with the intention of eating the entire state of Wisconsin. He nearly succeeds.

— August 1945: After dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, President Harry S. Truman takes a week off to “wrap his brain around what just went down” and vacations in Hannibal, Missouri where he takes in a one-man show involving a really bad Mark Twain impersonator telling lewd jokes involving  people who live on the Mississippi River.

— 1961-1962: President John F. Kennedy vacations at the “Kennedy Compound” at Hyannis Port, Mass. A LOT. Sometimes with cute chicks. Starts fad of presidential families living in compounds.

— 1969 to 1974: President Richard Nixon vacations several times at the “Western White House” (aka the  “Nixon Compound”) in San Clemente, California which is as far away as he can get from the White House Press Corps (aka “those jackal bastards”) without leaving the continental United States. Takes up surfing and smoking dope on the beach with Brian Wilson of the “Beach Boys.”

— 1981: President Jimmy Carter goes on what he thinks is a extended vacation to his peanut ranch in Georgia only to later learn he has been voted out of office after one term.

— 1981 to 1989: President Ronald Reagan vacations regularly at Rancho del Cielo in the mountains above Santa Barbara where he likes to sit on the front porch and pick pine cones off the trees in front of Gov. Jerry Brown’s family retreat with a high-powered rifle.

— 1998: President Bill Clinton “vacations” with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. Bully! Bully!



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Charles Memminger is a national award-winning columnist, screenwriter and author. His first novel, "Aloha, Lady Blue" will be published nationally Jan. 22, 2013 by St. Martin's Press. Memminger is a senior writer at Communications Pacific, Hawaii's premier communications, marketing and PR firms. Memminger's commentary represents his personal views and are not affiliated with any organization. To keep up with developments regarding "Aloha, Lady Blue," like him at: E-mail him at