On the President’s Weekly Winter Vacation

Except for howling winds and an extended dry spell the weather’s been nice and warm around here lately, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers are heading into collegiate basketball’s championship tournament on a 15-game blow-out streak, and so far it’s been a pretty good March in our patch of the prairie. Still, we can’t help noticing with a certain wistfulness all the references to Mar-a-Lago in the latest news.
Usually around this time of year in Kansas we’re chattering our teeth and wishing for a south Florida vacation, and fondly recalling that one especially bitter winter when we did escape to a week of driving around Miami in a rented convertible V-8 Mustang, which yielded lots of funny stories we still like to tell, but even our most fanciful late winter fantasies never included anything quite so fancy as Mar-a-Lago. A very Republican friend of ours said the other day that he’d never heard of Mar-a-Lago, so perhaps we should explain to a general readership that it’s a Great Gatsby-esque mansion and sprawling estate complete with golf courses and tennis courts and all sorts of amenities located on a prime stretch of Palm Beach real estate that Trump had turned into a $100,000-a-year resort before he became president, and now uses as the “Winter White House” while charging a recently raised $200,000-a-year fee for the rest of the guests, and by all accounts it’s very swank.
Trump has spent five weekends there since being sworn in as president just last January, and the taxpayers have spent an estimated $3.5 million per visit, which is also pretty damned swank, even by government standards, and we can’t help thinking that it would be a bigger story if he weren’t there “tweeting” unsubstantiated charges about his wires being tapped and thus dominating the next days’ news cycles.
We spent much of the past eight years grousing about how many vacations President Barack Obama took and how many rounds of golf he played, and sneering about how his Martha’s Vineyard getaways belied his man-of-the-people image, and how damned expensive it was for the actual people, and feeling sorry for partisan Democrats who had to make excuses for it after eight years of grousing about George W. Bush’s far cheaper recreation expenses and rounds of golf. So far Trump has gone out of town for non-business-related reasons and played and golf far more often than Obama did, and racked up monthly travel bills equal to what to Obama rang up in a year, and seems to think he proved his Jacksonian populism by pouring ketchup over the well done steaks he ordered at the Great Gatsby-esque resort where the government pays the tab even as he collects it, and because we were Republicans long before Trump ever was we’re not about to make any excuses for five straight weekends at Mar-a-Lago.
Should Trump ever bless the nation with a slow news day we’re sure his antagonists in the media will be able to fill it with some standby stories about Trump’s unusual buyer and seller arrangement with Mar-a-Lago, and the potential that a mere $200,000 a year membership could buy access to the president, and how top-secret negotiations were conducted there within earshot of waiters and busboys and other diners in the restaurant, and how it really doesn’t fit with the image of a champion of the black-lunged West Virginia coal miner and opioid-addicted former factory worker from the Rust Belt. Nor does it comport to our old-fashioned Republican fantasy of a Republican president working overtime at the actual White House on the weekend to get all those policies just right so that the damned Democrats couldn’t make such easy hash of them, and we can only imagine what the the Democratic media will make of it.
The press is already taking note of who isn’t going to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend with Trump, the latest reports have some of the famously feuding top White House staff left behind, and even over the work week it’s hard to find any evidence even in the friendliest meeting that the administration is humming along like the finely-tuned machine that Trump swears it is. Perhaps Trump will find some insight at Mar-a-Lago that repays the taxpayers’ expense, but until he does the resentment is likely to rise, even if Trump’s much boasted-about extravagance was one of his selling points. Trump used to grouse about Obama’s vacationing and golfing extravagance, too, and so long as we’re stuck here on the prairie we’ll fell free to grouse about them both. From what we hear, the weather’s been pretty mild in Washington, D.C., too.

— Bud Norman

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Laid-back

There was an abundance of news on Monday, but two stories in particular caught our attention. Neither was at all surprising, and compared to a bench-sitting basketball player publicly declaring his homosexuality they might not seem very newsworthy, but the juxtaposition of two was fascinating nonetheless.
One was a report that President Barack Obama has thus far devoted twice as much time to golf and vacations than to meetings devoted to the economy. We spotted this at the cheekily conservative Breitbart.com web site, which was predictably indignant about the presidential schedule, and at Britain’s primly conservative The Telegraph, which seemed to find the president appallingly lazy even by British standards, but lest you suspect these right-wing muckrakers were making it up they both cited an analysis by the Government Accountability Office. The agency is famously non-partisan, which means they tend favor Democrats, and it made generous estimates of how long it takes for Obama to complete a round of golf and how much time he devotes to business while on vacation, so the muckrakers are likely understating their case.
The other item that caught our eye, appearing in Vanity Fair, took a decidedly different view. The glossy magazine for glossy readers, which recently hosted the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner after-party for “Hollywood A-listers and Washington insiders,” ran a “photographic investigation of the ‘lean-back’ president.” A fawning introduction gripes that “Barack Obama receives ample flak from critics who say that he is too buttoned-up and reserved to thrive in an office that historically has required its fair share of cajoling, socializing, and even arm-twisting,” but insists that “Obama can, in fact, be remarkably laid-back.” We’re not sure who those critics are who lament Obama’s reserve and lack of haranguing, schmoozing, and Chicago-style political tactics, although they are probably to his left, but apparently even Brietbart.com and The Telegraph have already noticed that he can be laid-back. To further emphasize the point, however, Vanity Fair’s photographer shows us the president with his feet atop the Oval Office’s historic Resolute Desk, sitting tie-less with his advisers, more shots of the feet on the desk, and another shot with his feet on some non-descript coffee table, all of which invite the reader to marvel at very cool the president can be.
There’s something to be said for a laid-back personality, which is quite endearing in poets, musicians, and certain other occupations, but it’s not a quality that is necessarily well-suited to a president. When the president is spending more time on his golf game than the economy that is laying back a bit too far. On the other hand, with this particular president the less time he spends meddling in the economy the better.

— Bud Norman

Unrequited Love

Pity the poor White House press corps, tortured by unrequited love. No matter how hard they try to please their man, no matter how servile they become, they are given nothing in return but scorn.
Like a teary guest on an afternoon talk show, the White House press corps has at last begun to speak up for itself and demand the respect that its endless devotion to President Barack Obama has surely earned. The White House Correspondents’ Association didn’t formally protest Obama’s stonewalling on Fast and Furious, Solyndra, Benghazi, or any of the administration’s other serious scandals, only a lack of access during the most recent presidential vacation, but at least it is a start. As any afternoon talk show host will tell you, every emotional journey begins with a single small step.
One can certainly sympathize with the reporters, who were confined to a “party bus” while the president enjoyed a round of golf at a swank country club. Aside from the horrors of their hours-long confinement in the “party bus,” which according to one reporter “may sound more fun than it is,” the reporters were understandably miffed that they were kept away from a newsworthy event. Obama was playing against Tiger Woods, after all, and the mismatch of the century would certainly have made for interesting spectating.
Nor is there any apparent reason for such appalling treatment of a press corps that has always served the president well. Great Britain’s Daily Mail insinuates that Obama thought it might look bad to be photographed playing a stereotypically upper-class game at a ritzy Florida resort with the most notorious womanizer since Bill Clinton, and at a time when the nation’s economy is struggling and Obama is railing against the rich, but the British press is always much cheekier about these sorts of things than its American counterpart. We expect the reporters would have endeavored to make the event sound very glamorous and Camelot-y, yet not at all inconsistent with his populist rhetoric, and perhaps even kicked a few balls out of the rough for the president.
Typical of the press coverage was the Los Angeles Times’ story on “a more relaxed Obama,” which explained that “Obama’s vacations have been rare, brief and regularly interrupted by crises at home and overseas.” We do not know what the Times’ vacation policy provides, but if the paper truly considers Obama’s vacation schedule so pitiably stingy we will be sending them a resume forthwith. As for the regular interruptions by crises at home and overseas, we can’t recall the Times offering any such excuses for the previous president’s less frequent retreats to his family ranch. Of course the Bush family ranch was in Crawford, Texas, a hard-scrabble patch of prairie where the sun shines mercilessly in the summer and there’s not a decent bistro for miles, so even the free-ranging reporters of that era found it more onerous than even the most primitive “party bus.”
There’s no stopping the dogged determination of the White House press corps, though, and fans of a free press will be heartened to know that when the reporters finally got an opportunity to shout a question at Obama it was to find out if he had beaten Tiger Woods. The American press might not be so love-struck as the North Korean press that reported Kim Jong Il had shot a sizzling 38-under-par on his first try at the game, but it is getting there.

— Bud Norman