Barack Obama is the gift that keeps on giving. Merely by finishing his term, he’s saving the American taxpayer millions. Lots of millions. His frequent vacations lent new meaning to the word “tourist.” Getting there might not have been half the fun, but it was some of the most expensive fun.
Judicial Watch, a government-watchdog group that monitored the full eight years of Mr. Obama’s travels, used two separate lawsuits filed under the Freedom of Information Act to determine that the former president’s travel over his two terms cost the treasury $96,938,882.51. Not all of it was charged against the Secret Service accounts. Much of the expense was borne by the U.S. Air Force.
“The Obamas’ notorious use of presidential travel perks wasted military resources and stressed the Secret Service,” says Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “[We] estimate that the final costs of Obama’s unnecessary vacation and political travel will well exceed $100 million.”
Nobody begrudges the president, any president, a vacation, even frequent vacations. A president never really gets away from it all, because “all” follows him wherever he goes. Even on a golf course, the magnet that pulls Mr. Obama in a straight line to the nearest greens, the president is accompanied by an Air Force officer with “the football,” a small suitcase containing the nuclear codes with which a president can answer, and then some, an incoming threat from an enemy.
A Boeing 747 with full crew, standing by to take a president to a golf course, hunting lodge or a resort in the South Seas, would tempt anyone. Indeed, Air Force One might be the greatest presidential perk of all. He pays for it. Before and after photographs, showing a president as he was on Inauguration Day and as he was on the day he leaves the White House, show clearly the ravages imposed by time and responsibility.
Such a temptation can be easily indulged, and easily abused. Barack Obama himself spoke to this in an interview with columnist Bob Herbert of The New York Times during his first campaign in 2008. He spoke of himself as a man willing to give up everything for the good of the nation.
“You have to understand that if you seek that office,” he told Mr. Herbert, “you have to be prepared to give your life to it. Essentially the burden of any president, I think, strikes with the American people is, ‘you give me this office and in turn my fears, doubts, insecurities, foibles, need for sleep, family life, vacations, leisure is gone. I am giving myself to you.’
“The American people should have no patience for whatever is going through your head because you’ve got a job to do. How I think about it is that you don’t make that decision unless you are prepared to make that sacrifice, that bargain.”
That may exaggerate what a president owes to the people who give him the ultimate prize in America (he needs his sleep), but he makes a valid point. A president should take a vacation when he needs one (other presidents have found silence and solace at Camp David, which are definitely not modest digs), but not abuse the privilege. A hundred million dollars can buy too many rounds on anybody’s links.