(RELATED: 20 Photos of Presidents on Vacation)
Members of his staff who are veterans of earlier Obama vacations already are shuddering at what else may happen while he is trying to relax over the next two weeks. They know that last year was not unique. In 2009, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy died while the president was at Martha's Vineyard, and Obama broke away for the funeral in Boston. In 2011, the fighting intensified in Libya, and Tripoli fell during the vacation with the added drama of Western journalists held hostage in a Tripoli hotel. Also that year, Obama had to deal with the earthquake in Virginia. And if that were not enough, he had to cut the vacation short because Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the East Coast.
Looking back on all that, Press Secretary Josh Earnest is philosophical — and hopeful — when asked if the president hopes for a more relaxing vacation this time. "In year seven, he fully realizes that the challenges and strains of the job follow him where he goes," said Earnest. "Hopefully, fewer of those will tag along this year."
But Earnest and Obama understand what earlier presidents knew. "The amazing thing about this job is, the job seems to follow you around," said President George W. Bush while clearing brush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch during a long vacation in August 2002. Bush is the champion vacation-taker among modern presidents, topping Ronald Reagan in second place. According to numbers maintained by Mark Knoller of CBS News, Obama has spent all or part of 160 days on vacation, taking 22 breaks of varying lengths, from 17 days last winter in Hawaii to several out-of-town golf weekends. By comparison, at the same point in his presidency, Bush had made 65 visits to his Texas ranch, spanning all or part of 466 days.
(RELATED: Presidential Vacation Criticism Is as Old as Washington)
Bush took frequent vacations, believing them important to keeping his perspective. First Lady Nancy Reagan was a little more defensive about her husband spending so much time at his ranch in California. "Presidents don't get vacations," she said. "They just get a change of scenery."
That, of course, is the modern approach to vacations, one that leads image-conscious staff to label vacation homes as the "Western White House" (both Nixon and Bush), the "Texas White House" (Johnson), the "Winter White House" (Nixon at Key Biscayne), and the "Little White House" (Truman at Key West). That never happened before Theodore Roosevelt "invented" the presidential working vacation in 1902.
Before 1902, presidents took lengthy vacations but didn't pretend they were working. John Adams spent seven months at his Quincy farm in 1798, away from Washington, so long that Congress tried to take advantage of his lengthy absence to start a war with France. James Madison celebrated the end of the War of 1812 by staying away from Washington for four months — from June until October 1816. Thomas Jefferson went home from July until October in 1805.