Political Vacations? Why Not?

Washington is always searching for controversy. If it can’t find it, it creates it. A recent point of contention has been President Barack Obama’s ten-day vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, rankling political pundits across the country. Thus, the question has been raised: Should our elected officials take vacations? Put simply, absolutely.

One argument in particular echoes from one conversation to the next. Why is the president taking a vacation in the midst of an economic crisis and in the wake of the debt ceiling debacle? Mitt Romney seems particularly concerned about this, arguing that Obama shouldn’t be wasting time on the coast of Massachusetts. “I wish the president were in Washington calling back Congress and dealing with the challenges we have,” says the Republican presidential candidate. Keep that in mind if Mr. Romney is elected next year.

You may not agree with all of President Obama’s methods or policies, nor should you. But to think that he is sitting along the tranquil coast of the Vineyard napping to the calm and rhythmic waves of the Atlantic is ridiculous. The presidency isn’t confined to Washington D.C. The fact is the U.S. head-of-state continues to hold meetings and consult with aides on domestic and foreign issues.

Example? While on vacation Obama consulted with a battery of top advisers while drafting an official statement to the Libyan conflict – a response that called for Moammar Gadhafi to immediately relinquish power. What does it matter if the response was manifested in Martha’s Vineyard? As Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institute says, “The White House goes with the president.”

Okay, but what about elected officials leaving for vacation when a national crisis lingers on the horizon? Hearken back to the congressional circus leading up to the debt ceiling deadline. How is it that Congress can think of adjourning at such an economically dire time? It’s about quality, not quantity. Politicians bickered and dramatized for weeks. Rather than criticize our representatives for considering a few days away from the office, let’s hold them accountable for their lack of statesmanship and productivity when they are in it.

Of course, our elected officials are paid with our tax dollars – in theory, anyway. If that’s the case, then the president and Congress shouldn’t be taking a sojourn when they should be fixing the country’s problems. Aside from the fact that there are always issues to resolve and problems to fix, let’s not overlook the precedent set by this line of thinking. Broaden our scope and we realize that there are a number of positions in our society that are paid for by tax dollars: police officers, firefighters, state and city government officials just to name a few. Should the individuals who hold these positions be chastised for taking time away from their civic duties? If not, where do we draw the line?

Finally, let’s not be unreasonable. We can’t forget that our elected officials are human. Don’t worry, I have to remind myself of that, too. Nevertheless, as much as we may dislike a representative’s social or economic views, they should still have the right to see their families and loved ones, or to get away from an unrelenting and often hostile environment.

Perhaps President Obama could have taken a page from former President Bill Clinton’s playbook and been more sensitive in his decision on where to vacation. Regardless, in the end it is ridiculous to reprimand the president or Congress for getting away from the hornet’s nest that is our nation’s capital. In fact, after looking at how poorly our representatives have performed in the past few months, we should probably encourage it.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons