That Republicans are apoplectic about President Obama's "date night" in New York is pathetically predictable. That the GOP and its conservative water carriers remain silent about George W. Bush's record-breaking presidential vacation time is less surprising still.
To be sure, some will quibble with Obama's decision to fulfill his pledge to his wife that they would attend a Broadway show after the campaign. Few would question Obama's work ethic while confronting the myriad, simultaneous challenges bequeathed to him by President Bush. Most would laud his use of the smaller Gulfstream jet rather than Air Force One for the jaunt to New York. But with the country struggling economically and GM poised to announce bankruptcy this week, the Republican National Committee sneered:
"Have a great Saturday evening - even if you're not jetting off somewhere at taxpayer expense."
(The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen has a run-down of some of the more preposterous belly-aching from the raging right.)
Of course, President Obama's brief escape to New York is a reminder of the breakneck pace and long days of his White House. It also serves a stark contrast to the "barely working" George W. Bush, the man Dan Froomkin aptly named "The Vacation President."
As it turns out, Bush easily eclipsed Ronald Reagan's previous record for presidential sloth. By March 2008, Bush had spent all or part of 879 days at his Crawford, Texas ranch or at Camp David, surpassing Reagan's mark of 866. By the time he left office, George W. Bush had made 149 trips to and spent 487 days at Camp David, with another 77 getaways to (and 490 days at) Crawford. Toss in 11 visits and 43 days at his folks' compound in Kennebunkport, Maine and President Bush spent 1020 days - 35% of his presidency - getting away from the White House.
And it's what President Bush missed during his down time that is all the more disturbing still. For example:
- During his month-long August 2001 Crawford vacation spent agonizing over stem cell research, the CIA briefed Bush on the its now legendary pre-9/11 PDB, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.' Bush's response? "All right. You've covered your ass, now."
- As Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Bush nevertheless decided to continue his vacation. As New Orleans was inundated, Bush strummed a guitar with country singer Mark Wills and shared a birthday cake with John McCain on an Arizona airport tarmac. While Bush eventually cut short his trip, the damage to the nation - and his presidency - was done.
- As Israel and Hezbollah went to war in southern Lebanon in July 2006, President Bush managed to stay in Washington. But as the carnage escalated, Bush used the time in the office to welcome the finalists of American Idol to the White House.
No doubt, the manufactured controversy over the Obamas' date in New York will dominate cable news and talk radio for at least the next 24 hours. But the trip should be the exception that proves the rule, a quick break for a hard-working president.
Americans haven't had one of those for a long time.