Reading descriptions of President Obama's sojourn to his native (shh) Hawaii for the holidays, you'd think that his decision to have some “me-time” after a brutal session was unprecedented. Just look at this paragraph that makes it seem as though Obama really is different:
By contrast, Obama prefers his privacy and tends not to mix business with pleasure, although he still receives daily presidential briefings while out of town. The president typically keeps a low profile with few public appearances, and would rather unwind with an intimate circle – several family members, a tight-knit group of Chicago friends and a couple of childhood pals from Hawaii – than rub elbows with the famous or powerful.
By contrast to whom? President Bush's not-infrequent visits to Texas to clear some brush never had this kind of positive spin, typically getting panned as exemplary of a distant, removed president. In fact, reporters would spend a lot of time complaining:
Bush rarely takes the type of vacation one would consider exotic — or, to some, even appealing. His notion of relaxation is chopping cedar on his ranch or mountain biking through rough terrain, all in 100-degree-plus temperatures in dusty Texas where crickets are known to roast on the summer pavement. He seems to relish the idea of exposing aides and reporters to the hothouse environment.
In fact, this whole narrative about how Obama-just-a-regular-guy likes to have his vacations be vacations is a strange jumbled version of how far Bush had to go to convince people that his vacations weren't all that aloof. In a story headlined “Vacationing Bush poised to set a record,” the staff is described as going out of its way to dispell the impression he was asleep at the wheel:
Bush will not return to the White House until around Labor Day, but his staff has peppered his schedule with events to dispel any impression that he is not on duty. He will visit at least seven states, mostly with quick day trips, including New Mexico, where he plans to sign energy legislation into law. He gets off to a quick start this week, with a speech Wednesday in nearby Grapevine, Tex., then he plays host to President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia at the ranch Thursday. His schedule is clear Friday through Sunday.
That record would also eventually beat out Reagan, himself asleep at the wheel if you listen to the press tell it. Except he also did quite a bit of work, hosting Mikhail Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth II.
Meanwhile Obama gets the down-home country treatment of eating shaved ice and spending time with close intimate friends. But wait, he really isn't relaxing. Read the stories closer and you see that he's probably going to work just as hard as any of his predecessors. From the New York Times:
After a string of legislative victories on Capitol Hill – a bipartisan tax deal, the repeal of “don’t, ask, don’t tell,’’ and Senate approval of a new arms pact with Russia – Mr. Obama can at least take a break from dealing with Congress. But he does have internal White House business to tend to; his chief of staff, Pete Rouse, has been working on a new personnel plan, and the president has yet to settle on a new director for the National Economic Council, to succeed Lawrence Summers, who is returning to his professorship at Harvard University.
Mr. Obama is likely to spend some time focusing on such decisions here. But he will also face other big decisions, like when to go body-surfing and what flavor to pick when he eats Hawaiian shaved ice.
It sounds more like reporters are just trying to find a way to spice up their stale presidential vacation coverage, which is understandable. It would be better, however, if the press didn't play into the just-your-average-guy narrative. Obama is not. He's just your average president.