President Obama’s back from Hawaii: How many vacations has he taken?

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan said it best: “Presidents don’t get vacations — they just get a change of scenery. The job goes with you.”
Photo: President Obama greets a crowd at a Hawaiian ice cream shop AP

WASHINGTON, January 7, 2013 — President Obama and the First Family returned to Washington on Sunday from their vacation in Hawaii and immediately we hear the age-old question: Why does he take so many vacations when he should be leading the nation in these difficult times?

For the pronoun he, substitute the name of any president.

No matter whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, you always think the President from the other party is enjoying himself too much while the rest of us are miserable and the country is in the toilet. Such partisan sentiments go with the job.

President Reagan riding around his California ranch AP

No matter that being the President of the United States ages a man (so far all of our presidents are men); just look at the greying of the current president.

We Americans always carp about down time for our president, even though it is probably the hardest, most stressful job in the world, one that rocks around the clock 24/7.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan said it best: “Presidents don’t get vacations — they just get a change of scenery. The job goes with you.”

So just how much vacationing has Obama done and how does he stack up with our past presidents?

President Obama in his first four years has taken 131 days, dividing his time between Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard and, of course, Camp David, the official get away of U.S. presidents. At this rate, he could hit 262 days by the end of his eighth year, about average for modern presidents.

He certainly is not the king of vacation days. That honor falls to President George W. Bush, who racked up 1,020 vacation days in his eight years in office, including one five-week vacation, the most of any president in 36 years. Not to say he wasn’t on the job when he was at his Crawford, Texas ranch, but he was away from the White House.

[Also read: Obama’s vacations: Costly and unnecessary? (Video)]

And if we compare days off in the first year alone, President Bush still nabs the honor with 69 vacation days, President Obama with 26 and President Clinton with 19.

So how do these two presidents stack up against their predecessors from President Washington through President Clinton?

President Abraham Lincoln

President George Washington: No data on vacation days, but we do know he once went one year without taking time off.

President John Adams: No official record, but Adams spent seven months in 1798 with his wife Abigail at their Massachusetts farm after she fell ill. It is the longest time a president ever spent away from the White House.

President Thomas Jefferson: No official data, but in 1805 Jefferson took off for his Virginia home Monticello, staying there from July till October.

President James Madison: Again no official data, but Madison did take four months vacation at his home Montpelier from June to October, 1816.

President Lincoln: Surprising for a wartime president, Lincoln is said to have been away from the White House 25% of the time during his first term.

However, it is actually rather remarkable that these early presidents weren’t away more often, considering the unbearable summer heat and humidity of pre-air conditioned Washington, D.C. Add to that the city was a rank, oozing swamp that had very little to offer besides mosquitoes. (Of course, some would say that is an apt description of present day Washington.)

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

Afflicted with polio, the president headed for Warm Springs, Ga., where he eased his discomfort with swimming and therapy, for 958 vacation days out of his 12 years in office. Quite a low number for a man so ill, who died of a heart attack in 1945 while still in office.

He did, however, utilize the presidential yacht for mini-get aways, which was anchored in the Potomac River, so he was never far from the White House.

President Dwight Eisenhower:

President George W. Bush relaxing at his Crawford Ranch AP

The president who suffered two heart attacks during his presidency loved to golf and when he wasn’t getting away to Camp David, he headed to Augusta, Ga. for golf as well as flying out to Denver, taking him out of Washington for only 222 days in eight years.

President John F. Kennedy: Not big on long vacations, JFK spent almost every weekend away in Palm Beach, Hyannis Port or the Virginia countryside. No official vacation days recorded.

President Lyndon Johnson: During his sojourn at the White House, he, like Bush 2, spent time at his Texas ranch, Camp Davis, for 484 days.

President Jimmy Carter: Georgia was the destination for still another president, but the Carters were away only 79 days out of four years, which is pretty extraordinary.

President Clinton sailing on Martha Vineyard with Kennedy family AP

President Ronald Reagan: Another rancher, President Reagan would fly to Rancho del Cielo, his ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., spending 484 days there over eight years.

President George H.W. Bush: This president headed to the family compound in Kennebunkport, Me. for his get-aways for a total of 543 days in four years.

President Bill Clinton: Clinton liked vacationing by the ocean, probably because he was from land-locked Arkansas, but the workaholic was only vacationing 152 days during his eight years, primarily on Martha’s Vineyard and Long Island’s the Hamptons.

In all honesty, we shouldn’t begrudge these leaders of the world’s most powerful country — who are never without that Black Box and Red Phone by their side — trying to get away for a bit, whether surfing waves or chopping wood or swinging a golf club.

CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knollermy has actually tracked recent presidents’ vacations and has this to say: “I have long held the view that a U.S. president is never really on vacation. The job – and its awesome powers and responsibilities – is his wherever he is and whatever he’s doing.”

So to my friends on the Right and Left, some advice: Give a guy a break and let him have some down time without snide comments. Presidents work hard, harder than any of us.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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