I've spent two weeks, while on vacation myself, listening to the debate over whether President Obama is really paying any attention to the BP oil spill mess in the Gulf.
What's igniting this debate is all the pictures we've seen lately of the president playing golf, hosting White House parties, and appearing at a Washington Nationals baseball game. (Note to President Obama: if you want to win political points with Washington baseball fans, don't wear a Chicago White Sox cap to the game...yes, I know it's your home team)
Much of this, of course, is coming from the conservative right. But even his supporters on the left are questioning the amount of leasure time he's taking. His defenders, meantime, have taken note that President George W. Bush spent a lot of time at his ranch in Crawford, Texas (usually in August, when even Congress is off on its summer vacation).
I think all of these people are forgetting that nearly every president has had an "out-of-town White House" to which they've retreated. Towns like Key Biscayne, Florida, Plains, Georgia and Kennebunkport, Maine were made famous as being locations to where presidents took regular out-of-town trips.
But the word "retreat" should not be confused with "escape". Usually, when the president travels to one of these towns, he doesn't leave the White House staff in Washington. Much of it goes with him. And he doesn't leave the world's problems in the nation's capitol, either...especially in this age where communication is more instantaneous than ever, as anyone who regularly uses a cell phone or texts should understand.
As for the BP spill, I think it's more than fair to say the president didn't respond to it as quickly as he should have...and still hasn't. But does anyone really think his being in the White House 24/7 would stop the leak or clean up the Gulf?
Jimmy Carter tried something like that in the early months of the 1979-81 hostage crisis in Iran, when he pretty much confined himself to the White House in what the media dubbed the "Rose Garden Strategy".
That worked out well.