This past week from Aug. 10 to 18, 2013 President Barack Obama and his family have been vacationing on the Island of Martha's Vineyard in Chilmark, Massachusetts. Each year Presidents throughout history have vacationed during the Congressional summer recess when there is lull of official activities on Capitol Hill. Each year President Obama has taken his vacation on Martha's Vineyard, except during his re-election campaign in 2012, when he skipped vacationing for campaigning. Obama does not own a vacation home as many other presidents have, rented a contemporary styled home for his stay.
In the first three years of his presidency the President and his family stayed at the Blue Heron Farm, which was sold in 2012. The estate located on 28 acres was much more private, than Obama's replacement rental owned by Democratic donor and Obama friend, David Schulte on Snail Road in Chilmark on the island's south shore. The smaller 5,000-square-foot estate which sits on nine and half-acres overlooking Chilmark Pond and the Atlantic Ocean, required extra security measures, including closing a stretch of the South Road that leads to the property.
The President has been spending most of the week golfing, and evenings eating out with First Lady Michelle Obama, making daily treks to Edgartown, Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven. The President has been golfing 18-holes each day playing at an array of Vineyard golf courses; Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown, and Mink Meadows Golf Club in Vineyard Haven. He has been joined by friends, advisors and celebrities; his favorite golfing buddies on this trip have been former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, personal aide Marvin Nicholson and White House Chef Sam Kass.
Devoted to the game, Obama spent Monday playing golf while the rain poured on him. The rain poured too heavily on Tuesday forcing Obama to trade his golf clubs for the basketball hoops, where he played at Oak Bluffs School, and had a seafood lunch with fries at Nancy's Restaurant.
The President spent the evenings of the first part of his vacation dining out with the first lady at popular Vineyard restaurants; Sweet Life Cafe in Oak Bluffs on Sunday, Beach Plum Inn in Menemsha on Tuesday, and State Road Restaurant in West Tisbury on Wednesday. Additionally, the Obamas attended cocktail parties at the homes of advisors and friends on Monday and Wednesday. Wednesday's event was a star-studded reception at Comcast CEO Brian Roberts' home, which was followed by a dinner with Massachusetts' Gov. Deval Patrick.
On Thursday, Obama also cut short his golfing to only nine-holes, because of his statement to the press on Egypt and the arrival of his daughters. The other three vacations, the Obamas were joined by their two daughters, Malia and Sasha however, this year they were at summer camp, arriving later on Thursday, Aug. 15 to enjoy the last few days of the first families' vacation time on the Vineyard. The Obamas were joined from the beginning by the family dog Bo, a Portuguese water dog, which travelled with the Secret Service last Saturday.
With the arrival of his daughters, the President has turned his attention more to the typical tourist activities that Vineyard has to offer, which included bike riding Friday during the day, attending the annual Oak Bluffs fireworks on Friday, night and going swimming at the beach on Saturday. Still Obama has been unable to tear himself away too much from the golf course, returning to the links on Saturday. Obama's only official comments to the press about his vacation came on Friday when he said he is having a "great time as always" while on a bike riding trip.
The President tried to portray to the American public that the vacation was not all play, but also included work. The White House released a photo to the press on Monday, Aug, 12 of the President receiving a daily briefing from his National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Both Rice and deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors joined the President for the week. Obama has been receiving daily briefings from aides on domestic and foreign policy, especially relating to the escalating violence in Egypt between the military government and Muslim Brotherhood protesters.
This year as in 2011, Obama's vacation was interrupted by unexpected world events; then revolution in Libya required public remarks, now it was Egypt. The situation in Egypt prompted Obama to give an address to the press on Thursday, Aug. 15, announcing that as a result of the violence that the United States was pulling out of planned joint military exercises scheduled for September.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle arrived last Saturday, Aug.10, in the afternoon after speaking at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention in Orlando, Florida. They arrived in Cape Cod in Air Force One, and proceeded to Martha's Vineyard's airport on Marine One, and followed by two MV-22s, with Secret Service, aides and supplies. The first couple spent their first afternoon and evening settling in.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney spoke to the press prior to Obama leaving for vacation, describing the general routine the President was planning; "I know he's looking forward very much to some downtime with his family, with the first lady, and I'm sure he'll see some friends. But I don't have a social schedule to offer you." Carney also tried to deflect criticism by saying; "wherever he is, he's president of the United States and will be dedicating a portion of his day to being briefed and working on all the issues that are on the table in front of him."
Each year Obama faces criticism about vacationing as the other presidents before him have. This fall Obama faces a budget showdown and a fight with the Republican Congress over raising the debt ceiling, appointing a new Federal Reserve chairman, and implementing his signature achievement, the Affordable Cart Act, his healthcare overhaul. The economy is slowly rebounding however, the unemployment rate remains high, still at 7.4 percent.
Republicans and critics denounced the President's costly vacation, and using taxpayers' money to pay for 75 hotel rooms for all the secret service, Transportation Security Agency (TSA) members, and White House personnel that had to join the first family on the short trip. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah had a problem not with the vacation, but the upscale location, telling the press; "Most of the people in my district could never afford to visit Martha's Vineyard, and those who could would feel uncomfortable vacationing in a place that has a reputation for being for the elite." In light of all of this, Obama decided to cut short his vacation to only one week rather than the two he originally intended.
There is long history of presidents going away on vacations during the five week August Congressional recess, the slowest political month of the year. President Richard Nixon declared in 1971 to White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, "August is really a dull month," which is why the biggest news is usually what the President does each day on vacation.
The modern presidential vacation started with Theodore Roosevelt, however, earlier in the nineteenth century some presidents would move out of Washington during the hot summer months to the surrounding country or their hometowns. Roosevelt outfitted his home in Oyster Bay, N.Y. to communicate with the White House, while spending the time in between hunting game.
President William Howard Taft was the first golfing president, his favorite vacation pastime, having exclaimed; "Golf is th' thing I like best next to leavin' Washington." However, it was Dwight Eisenhower that is known most for playing golf as president, 800 rounds in 8 years, prompting Democrats to say he worked a "36-hole workweek." Eisenhower had a farm and vacation home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania next to the battlefield, with its very own putting green installed.
Most of the modern presidents owned homes where they both worked and vacationed. George W. Bush enjoyed spending time at his ranch and his parents' compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush spent most of his vacation time in Maine. Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan vacationed in California, both had homes there; Nixon had a home in San Clemente Beach, referred to as the Western White House and Reagan had a ranch, Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, Nixon also vacationed in Key Biscayne, Florida. Lyndon Johnson also owned a ranch in Texas, the "Texas White House." While Franklin Roosevelt spent time at therapeutic, Warm Springs, Georgia, the same state Jimmy Carter vacationed years later.
Both Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant also chose Martha's Vineyard for their vacations. Clinton similarly to Obama rented a home there, because he did not own a vacation spot. President John F. Kennedy also vacationed in Massachusetts at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod.
Unlike like his predecessors, Obama has spent much less time vacationing from the White House. So far the President only spent 92 days on vacation, his predecessor George W. Bush spent 367 days of vacation by this time in his presidency, mostly at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and a total of 490 days at the ranch during his entire presidency. Reagan spent 484 days at his California ranch, while Bush's father George H.W. Bush spent 543 days in his four year term in Kennebunkport, Maine. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jimmy Carter spent the least amount of vacation time of any modern president with only 79 days in one term mostly at his family's home in Plains, Ga.
The Obamas return on Sunday to the White House. Hopefully the President returns much more rested and ready for the upcoming difficult battles with Congress awaiting him back in Washington this fall.
A Look Back: Presidential Vacations, White House.
HISTORIC PHOTOGRAPHS: Presidential Vacations and Retreats, White House Historical Association
How Presidents Take Vacation,Time, Aug. 9, 2013.
Photos: Obama family vacations, The Hill, Aug. 10, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.