Was Michelle Obama's Vacation in Spain Excessive?


Michelle Obama's recent vacation in Spain attracted (a lot of) media attention. CBS ran two stories examining the public costs of her travels, which included details about the matching sundresses she bought and the fancy resort she stayed in (with her "forty" friends). Columnist Andrea Tantros called Obama a "modern-day Marie Antoinette" and a "material girl."

The anger seems to be, in part, focused on the Florida Gulf Coast. Since the Obamas have been encouraging the public to travel to the Gulf Coast to support the area, the public (or, rather, the media's voice on behalf of the public) seems to think that the Obamas should be traveling to the Gulf Coast, and only to the Gulf Coast. The Obamas do plan to go to the Gulf Coast this weekend (August 14), but they are also going to Martha's Vineyard for a 10-day vacation afterward.

Luxury is part of the issue in question, too. Luxury, and taxpayer dollars. Mrs. Obama paid her personal costs on her trip to Spain, but Americans paid for the $146,000 U.S. Air Force 757 aircraft on which she travelled, $95,000 in hotel costs for 70 security personnel, and for their cars and other expenses (an estimated $375,000 more). Of course, she couldn't go on vacation without them, because we require her to travel with security.

A lot of the claims about the trip are just rumors. Mrs. Obama did not ask for "special treatment" at the hotel, just discretion. She did not have forty friends with her. The media is also upset that she left poor President Obama home alone on his birthday. Oh, the drama.  The press rarely mentions that the idea for the vacation originated with Mrs. Obama's friend, Anita Blanchard, who delivered both the Obamas' daughters. Or that Mrs. Blanchard's father recently died. Michelle Obama is a friend and a mother, not just a first lady. Nor does the media recall that in 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy took a three week vacation at an Italian seaside villa with her daughter, and the only concern of the press was their one "outrageous" activity: water skiing.

Other pundits claim that other first ladies didn't travel as extravagantly as Mrs. Obama. For example, Hillary Clinton supposedly only travelled internationally when there was other "official" business (although she did ride an elephant with Chelsea and so forth). On Sunday, Mrs. Obama and her daughter, Sasha, had lunch with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia in their Majorca summer palace. She also kept up on issues at home. But, critics have determined this is "business light" and not worth a vacation to Spain. And this is a time of austerity and belt-tightening; a time when no one is allowed any fun. This is no time for vacation…

The question becomes:  does the first family deserve to vacation as they please (like all American citizens), or should they only engage in economical, responsible, and business-oriented travel?

Photo credit: Boghosian