Last night towards the end of our show, Offbeat Reporter Pete Dominick made an important point about the power of perception versus the power of facts.
“Yesterday, a friend of mine told me, well, Obama took more vacation days than President Bush…It is perception,” Pete said, during his last question to John. “The facts sometimes don't really matter in elections.”
John quickly corrected Pete’s friend, but the point that Pete was trying to make about the importance of perception is one reason why arriving at an accurate number of presidential vacation days is so difficult.
According to CNN's White House Unit, President Obama has spent 82 days on “vacation” since his inauguration. This includes 18 trips to Camp David, along with trips to Chicago, Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard and other family vacation spots. At the same point in his presidency President George W. Bush had spent over 200 days on “vacation,” including more than 40 trips to Camp David and nearly two whole Augusts on his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
But one weekend trip in September of 2002 proves how difficult it is to determine what the word “vacation” actually means to a President. On Friday, President Bush left the White House with his wife Laura for a weekend at Camp David. On Saturday, the couple was joined by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Prime Minister and the President held a brief press conference on Saturday, and then the President and his wife returned home to Washington, D.C. on Sunday.
If a vacation-tally counts every trip to Camp David, than this weekend trip would have to be included. But President Bush used this trip to meet with a foreign head of state. That certainly doesn’t sound like much of a “vacation.”
Similarly, much of the time that President Bush spent at his ranch included meetings with administration officials, media interviews, fundraising trips, and even the occasional town hall. President Bush’s month in Crawford in August 2002 included trips to 15 cities across the country, yet most tallies of his “vacation” days include the entire month because he stayed out of Washington.
By this count, President Obama has taken fewer “vacations” thus far – meaning he’s spent more nights in Washington, but the trips he has taken have been slightly more private. The First Family’s recent trip to Martha’s Vineyard included 11 days with no public events. On a weekend trip to Maine in July, the First Family hiked, biked, played tennis and toured a light house, but President Obama avoided any formal appearances.
Being President of the United States requires being on-call 24 hours a day, meaning that even the most private vacation is also work trip. But what’s clear by looking at these numbers is that the way in which a President chooses to take vacations has a big effect on public perceptions, which as Pete said, can often be just as important as the facts.
Everyday we ask influential politicos to send us their top three bullet points that are driving the day's conversation in and outside Washington:
RedState.Com Editor Erick-Woods Erickson:
- All the Labor Day polling shows bad news for the Democrats. Bad news indeed. Bring on the fire wall!
- Meghan McCain's book is now in wide circulation. It is as if millions of English teachers cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. The funniest part about this book, other than the clear lack of a copy editor, is that the people who will treat it seriously think Sarah Palin lacks intellectual curiosity.
- $50 billion for infrastructure? Really? Isn't the definition of crazy doing the same thing over expecting a different result? Just because Stimulus 2 will be, in some ways, bigger, doesn't make it different. Likewise, most voters are ready to tell Mr. Obama "No you can't" regardless of what he tries to do.
Senior Political Columnist for TheDailyBeast.com John Avlon:
- A Voice of Reason - General Petraeus Condemns ‘Burn a Koran’ Day: In yet another sign of the slide of civility as we approach the 9th anniversary of 9/11, a Florida church is hosting a ‘burn a Koran’ day. If any one out there thinks this is courageous or fun, consult General David Petraeus, who condemned the stunt in no uncertain terms, saying that it will only make our job in Afghanistan harder. It will enable our enemies to find fresh recruits and make it tougher for our troops to win the trust of people on the ground. This is tactically as well as strategically stupid.
- Hypocrisy is the Unforgiveable Sin in Politics: New reports suggest that Sharron Angle is living off her husband’s federal pension. File this under ‘do as I say, not as I do.” Angle’s campaign is predicated on a commitment to small government and cutting excesses social spending. Which prompts a question – can we have her husband’s pension back to pay down the debt?
- The Party of Nixon or Goldwater? – Arizona Republicans are registering homeless people to run as Green Party candidates to split the Democrat vote. This is in a state where 30% of the voters are independent. The GOP shouldn’t need to resort to this kind of trickery to win in AZ – especially this year. They’re picking the tactics of tricky Dick Nixon over Barry Goldwater’s legacy.
Food in the Field gives a sneak peek into what CNN's team is eating as they travel the globe. Today's contributor, John King is anchor of CNN’s 7 p.m. ET program, John King, USA, and CNN’s chief national correspondent.
I love diners and other casual community eateries because comfort food equals comfortable conversation, and when people are relaxed in a place that feels like home you learn more about them and what drives their politics.
Don’t get me wrong, I'm also in it for the food. I’m a fairly basic guy for breakfast, but can be enticed away from the usual scrambled eggs and homefries by a glimpse at a neighboring table's pancakes or the smell of beignets.
A diner menu can tell you a lot about where you are, from the huckleberry milkshakes of western Idaho to the pork-laden specials at most of the great diners of Iowa political travels.
To listen is to learn, and what better way to learn than over a good meal. In visiting all 50 states in 2009, we found in each one at least one place just to have a meal with a mix of locals.
Often they fiercely disagreed on the issues of the day, but without exception the conversations were respectful and civil. We learned from each other, and laughed with each other. Washington could learn a lesson or ten from the civil discourse and community spirit I encountered over more than my share of great comfort food.
Another lesson of those travels: most of the diners we visited were doing OK – even improving business – during the worst of the recession. When times were toughest, people look for value – more meal for their money. I suspect they also look for character, and community.
Work aside, it's just a treat to find the old photos and old menus in the diners that have fed generations and anchored their communities along the way.
Plus, where else can you get called "honey" every morning by a perfect stranger who brings hot coffee and somehow seems to know when to be nice, or when you need a little barking to put you in your place.
John King is teaming up with Gowalla, the location based mobile and web service, to share his experiences from the road. Last year, John visited all 50 states following President Barack Obama’s inauguration and sat down with residents in local diners to hear their stories and discuss important issues.
John has compiled his favorite diners for Gowalla and you can now visit them as well. To participate and see the trips John has created, Gowalla users should follow John by going to John King, USA’s Gowalla page and clicking the "follow John King, USA" button in the right column. You will then have access to John’s custom Trips at Gowalla.com or on your smartphone via the Gowalla app.
John and our CNN correspondents are busy catching up with candidates and listening to voters. Even those of us who aren’t on the road have a lot to do between now and show time at 7pm ET.
In the meantime, we’d like to share an interview John did with the Columbus Dispatch: They talked everything from Ohio’s political importance to (Are you ready for this?) Justin Bieber.
Just follow this link to read more.