Watchdog group's double standard with Obama and Bush kids' vacations

Conservative watchdog group opposed to Secret Service expenditures to protect Malia Obama during her spring break to Mexico this year didn't similarly object to protection of Bush girls' vacation in Argentina Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2012 - Several surveys  including scholarship from the US Department of Education have concluded that children who travel over summer break do better in reading, math and their general knowledge than those who do not. Traveling enables kids to  broaden their horizons and learn that the world is not made up of the limited confines of their neighborhoods.

But when your name is Malia Obama and your parents include the President and First Lady of the United States, it’s not that easy to head off on a trip without the presence of the Secret Service.

That is just what was required to protect the first daughter during a March 2012 spring break trip to Mexico. It was the same type of protection afforded to Jenna and Barbara Bush when they took a spring break trip to Argentina.

File photo of Bush twins Jenna and Barbara watching a soccer match while vacationing in Argentina in 2006. AP File


The argument has been made by some opponents to Malia’s parents that the security required for the trip was a waste of tax payer dollars.  Perhaps at their urging, government watchdog group Judicial Watch chose to sue the US Secret Service for failing to oblige by its Freedom of Information Act request for documentation detailing the cost of Malia’s security detail.  The group has compiled details of the cost of the Obamas’ various vacations and trips throughout the president’s first term in office.

A cursory review through the site’s archives does not reveal that the group made similar efforts to obtain information on the travels of the previous Republican administration, however.  The conservative organization has filed 18 lawsuits against the Bill Clinton and other Democratic administrations, however.

It smacks of another instance of intellectual dishonesty, as this group and other loud complainers  launched no similar outcry when the offspring of a president they favored took advantage of the same privileges afforded all children of US Presidents.

It is reminiscent of the same outcry over the First Lady’s decision to travel to Africa.  Several conservative sites made a big deal of it and pointed out the fact that Michelle and her daughters and a cousin went on safari during a diplomatic mission.

Malia Obama traveled to Mexico during a spring break trip with classmates.

Yet, those upset over the Obama safari trip didn’t have the same opposition to Laura Bush who visited Africa 5 times during her husband’s two terms in office.  She too attended a safari.  Laura and daughters Barbara and Jenna ended their diplomatic mission trip at  the Madikwe Game Reserve on the South African-Botswana border.

By  the end of George W. Bush’s tenure, Laura had traveled to 10 different countries, the most visits than any other First Lady before her.

During her travels, Laura Bush’s daughters accompanied her on tours to remote villages.  Former First Daughter Barbara Bush has said her 2003 trip to Africa with her parents sparked her interest in global health. She later returned to work in a hospital in South Africa and is currently president of the Global Health Corps, a non-profit organization she founded  that is trying to bring health equity to the United States and Africa.

Similarly, while on Spring break in 1997, Chelsea Clinton joined her mother in South Africa during Hillary Clinton’s two-week Africa visit. She also toured impoverished areas of the various countries during the trip and later decided to choose southern Africa as her honeymoon destination, vacationing in Namibia after her wedding to Marc Mezvinsky in 2010.

There is scant recollection of any outcry when US Secret Service was used to protect these ladies during these trips.

Some point out that during a recovering economy, heads of states should show some empathy and solidarity and scale back ostentatious travels.

While that is true for office holders, the same standard shouldn’t necessarily be hoisted upon their offspring who are not elected officials. They shouldn’t be made to go without the educational and enriching experience of overseas travel simply because some Americans despise their parents. 

Further, the Bush twins caused such a stir while visiting Argentina that the US Consulate offices asked them to cut their trip short for the sake of security concerns. They did not.

And the economy during their maiden journey in 2006?

According to a Center for American Progress report, in that year economic growth slipped to 2 percent in the third quarter, consumption growth dipped to below 3 % in two consecutive quarters for the first time in over three years, retail sales weakened, job growth continued to drop to 14.5% slower in 2006 than two years prior, wages made up a record low share of the national income, home appreciations decreased in the first three quarters of 2006, consumer debt soared to new heights reaching a record 130.9% by the end of the third quarter, mortgage delinquencies rose to 4.7% of all mortgages in the third quarter, the trade deficit widened, and there were 2.2 bankruptcy cases per 1,000 people in the third quarter.

It would be intellectually dishonest for one to raise a stink about Malia’s trip in this economy yet have had nothing negative or critical to say about the Bush twins too traveling abroad in the same year the nation was feeling the pinch under their dad’s presidency.

Judicial Watch’s critical admonishment of overt government spending loses its credibilty if not lodged evenly irrespective of political affiliation.  What would be a reasonable request looks more like a witch hunt of a little kid’s enrichment trip simply because the group doesn’t like the girl’s dad. 

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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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