Imagine the reaction if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh takes a 10-day vacation at an exclusive Rs 22.5 lakh-a-week resort even as Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement roils the nation? The country, the Opposition, the media, everyone, will go ape.
It’s certainly difficult to visualise him vacationing anywhere, much less in such a setting, but for most American presidents it’s par for the course.
When an earthquake rattled Washington on Tuesday, President Obama received updates while enjoying a round of golf at his favorite vacation spot of Martha’s Vineyard, summer playground of the rich and famous. His rental residence there costs $50,000 weekly. It was also from the Vineyard that he monitored the turmoil in Tripoli. No information, though, on how that impacted his handicap.
Critics have been unkind to his vacationing ways. They probably have taken too literally these words of his: “I won’t rest until businesses are hiring again, and wages are rising again, and the middle class is thriving again, and we’ve finally got an economy that works for all Americans again.” He said that in February 2010, but has since sought rest coast to coast at places as varied as a national park in Maine, the post-oil spill waters of Florida and the beaches of his native Hawaii.
Even as he takes a break, President Obama can’t catch a break. There may be nothing wrong with an American President enjoying some down time. It may actually be fitting since down time seems to well define the state of the American economy and the country’s mood, too.
Indian leaders’ vacationing habits are less regular. Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi enjoyed brief retreats at Ladakh, Lakshadweep or Sariska. Former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee took time off in Manali or for healing visits to Kerala. There’s very little information on the current PM’s holidays, or those of his predecessors, though HD Deve Gowda snatched plenty of rest during Cabinet meetings.
American presidents utilising their leave of privilege is hardly limited to the current incumbent of the White House. Obama has vacationed for just over two months since he assumed office in January 2009. According to data gathered by CBS News, George W Bush spent six months of his eight-year tenure on holiday, usually at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, dirt-biking or clearing shrub. Bush was on vacation when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.
Bush’s predecessor Bill Clinton took just 28 days off during his entire two terms.
But the man who wanted the word ‘it’ defined, even took his vacations based on pollsters telling him where the President should go without appearing elitist. So, off he went to the rugged mountain resort at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
On weekends, American presidents have a readymade retreat waiting for them at Camp David near Washington, DC. And it’s not just presidents, Americans have perfected the art of the long weekend. During August and the Christmas season each year, the whole country appears to have collectively gone camping, having outsourced the functioning of the nation to call centres in Bangalore.
Despite putting up with the griping, Obama has been luckier than British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was in Tuscany, Italy, as mobs of yobs pillaged London and beyond. As he attempted to resume the rudely interrupted holiday, by taking off for Cornwall, he had to rush back to 10 Downing Street as the Libyan crisis reached a flashpoint. Cameron’s hectic schedule also included an afternoon off watching the English cricket team pummel India at the Oval. At that time, he said, “I hope no one will begrudge me an afternoon at the cricket. Particularly when England are playing so well.”
The problem for Cameron, and Obama, and certainly the majority of India’s Test batsmen, is that of poor timing.
And timing feeds into public perception. As American voters get antsy, and the economy keeps tanking, Obama can only hope that he hasn’t earned himself a permanent vacation in 2012.
Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
The views expressed by the author are personal