From Maine To Spain; Or, 'Why Do We Care About Presidential Holidays?' : The Two-Way As the Obama family prepares to leave for a Martha's Vineyard vacation, Slate columnist Anne Applebaum wonders why people care so much about where the first family decides to travel.
NPR logo From Maine To Spain; Or, 'Why Do We Care About Presidential Holidays?'

From Maine To Spain; Or, 'Why Do We Care About Presidential Holidays?'

The Obamas at Pirate's Island Golf, in Panama City Beach, Florida, last weekend. Mandel Ngan/AFP hide caption

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Mandel Ngan/AFP

On Thursday, President Obama and his family will travel to Massachusetts, for a ten-day vacation on Martha's Vineyard.

Have you heard the chorus of critics crying foul?  "Has the White House Gone Tone Deaf?" (Politics Daily). "Does He Get It?" (

The mad motet began a few weeks ago, when Michelle Obama traveled to Spain. A New York Daily News columnist called her "a modern-day Marie Antoinette" and a "material girl."

Responding to calls or them to visit the Gulf of Mexico, the first family took a weekend-long trip to Florida. They played miniature golf. They swam.

"...the president’s staff kept photographers at bay while he took a dip in waters off Panama City Beach," Jeremy W. Peters, a reporter for The New York Times, tells us. "No bare-chested shots this time."

On Slate, Anne Applebaum starts her most-recent column with a rhetorical question: "Why do we care about presidential holidays?"

I don't know for certain, but I'm blaming the Kennedys, whose photogenic touch-football games and elegant yachts set a standard to which later presidents could only aspire. They did have precursors: Franklin Roosevelt was photographed fishing in Florida, riding horseback, even swimming on a pebbly beach. And there are many, many pictures of his distant cousin Theodore holding up his hunting trophies in exotic forests.

"Let the Obama family go on vacation," she concludes. "Let them go wherever they want."

Let them do whatever they want. Let the president work out, play basketball. Let the first lady read a good novel, have lunch with whomever she pleases. Let's not talk about them for a few weeks. This is what mid-August is for. Why do we need to think about them when we're on vacation, too?

Applebaum wonders why Presidents Obama and Clinton — both of whom vacationed on Martha's Vineyard — took so much grief for their summer trips.

"...only two presidents in recent memory have not had vacation homes of their own," she notes. "Not coincidentally, it is their vacation choices that have been most heavily criticized."

The Bushes had acreage and homes in Texas and Maines. The Reagans traveled to Rancho del Cielo. The Carters took trips to Georgia. The Fords loved the Vail Valley, in Colorado.

In "The First Family's Forced Vacations," Applebaum asks a few other questions: "Why, exactly, is borrowing or renting someone's house more elitist than owning one?"

Why is Martha's Vineyard snobbier than Kennebunkport, Hyannis Port, or even a private Texas ranch?

I don't know, but that's what everyone said, and thus were the Clintons forced to take a pretend "vacation" in Jackson Hole, Wyo. During this "vacation," they had to provide photo opportunities to the press, in order to prove that they really were normal Americans — which, of course, they patently were not. No president, once elected, is ever a normal American again.