Recently, it was reported that President Obama’s daughter Malia took a Spring break vacation to Oaxaca, Mexico. Although the Lamestream Media dutifully ignored the news item, but the White House prevailed on the press to scrub the story.
Coverage of children in the White House can be somewhat tricky. Whenever possible, all politicians want to project a positive family image, as it humanizes them and the photo ops create a warm fuzzy emotional connection with some voters. But children are not all cute and cuddly as they grow up and this is compounded when living in the penumbra of the national spotlight.
When former President Clinton moved into the White House in 1993, his daughter Chelsea Clinton was thirteen years old. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton asked the press to lay off of coverage so that Chelsea could have as normal of childhood as possible. The Clintons sent her to an expensive Sidwell Friends private school, which the school and students gave the First Daughter all of the privacy that the First Family wanted. The Lamestream Media also respected the Clinton’s request to keep the first daughter out of the spotlight, giving only non-critical coverage when she would appear in public. This fawning aura a decade later gave Chelsea Clinton an opportunity to become a NBC regular correspondent, even though she had neither had a background in journalism nor any significant knowledge expertise.
The same sort of kid glove treatment was applied for Al Gore III, the child of former Vice President Al Gore, Jr., albeit the scion’s troubles (suspected drunk driving 2002, marijuana possession 2003, racing a Prius at 100 miles an hour along with possessing drugs 2007) occurred after Gore left office but during his apotheosis into a Global Warming Guru.
The Lamestream Media was not as kind to the daughters of President George W. Bush. They generally kept themselves away from being public figures, yet the media “dutifully” reported personal peccadilloes, like fake ID cards and under-aged drinking while in college. But if it was not for double standards then the Lamestream Media would have no standards at all.
Generally, the private lives of political families should be respected if they are ancillary to the political process. As long as individuals are not stepping out into the spotlight on their own, like Meghan McCain’s media strip tease during the 2008 campaign until today, they should not receive celebrity scruity per se. But that does not mean that the First Family is immune to criticism either.
What this spring break trip brings into question is Mr. Obama’s personal judgment as well as the public policy implications of the First Family’s actions.
Should any thirteen year old take a spring break trip to Mexico? This was a Sidwell Friends School trip that certainly was chaperoned along with a group of other students. Most teenagers take spring break trips without their family when they are juniors or seniors in high school. People need to discern for themselves if allowing this excursion was a prudent parenting choice.
Maybe the public would appreciate the decision for the Obama’s to send their thirteen year old daughter if there was a deeper meaning to the trip than sightseeing. Some churches and schools engage in mission work during spring break by sending their youth the places like Appalachia or under-served urban enclaves. Of course the Obama’s still have not found a church for the First Family Between the Beltways, so it was not a church mission. Since Sidwell Friends is nominally a Quaker educational institution so possibly the Spring Fling might have had some mission motives. But what remains from the scrubbed media accounts, Malia and her twelve Sidwell friends did sight seeing in Oaxaca
It is hard to claim that the first daughters have been trapped in the White House bubble, considering the Obama's sixteen vacations that they have taken during the first three years of the Obama Presidency, including South Africa and Spain. This figure does not include weekend trips to Camp David or when the First Family tags along on official business to Britain, Brazil or India. The Obamas are renowned for not giving gifts at Christmas but they make it up to their kids in other ways. If one needs some solace from the remarkable sweet 16 First Family trips, at least it is only 1/5th of the number of times that President Obama has spent his day golfing. As the days go by, it's the same as it ever was for this Administration.
Then there is the cost issue. While the cost for the First Daughter’s Spring Break Mexican trip was de minus for a family in the top 1% income bracket, that is only a portion of the overall cost. News reports indicate that 25 Secret Service agents were dispatched for this Mexican vacation. At a time when the United States government is broke and due to poor economic circumstances, many Americans will have to take staycations, it is strange to think that taxpayers have to foot the security bill for a non-essential vacation to Mexico for the First Daughter.
Green eyeshades aside, was it prudent to send the First Daughter to Mexico on a school trip. Presidents are not just people but they are heads of state. Consequently, their families can be targeted by potential malfeasors, hence the Secret Service protection. Think of the film Air Force One (1997), where endangered family motives sway the Chief Executive’s decision making. If one of Malia’s friends were abducted or harmed, it would create an unstable international incident. But a villain was not necessary when making foreign trips in Earthquake areas. While Malia was in Oaxaca, the area experienced a 7.6 trembler
It is nothing new for President Obama to minimize security concerns. Mr. Obama insisted on keeping his Blackberry cell phone during his tenure in the White House, even though the hardware has a transceiver which contains the location of the device. To accommodate Obama’s urge to keep in touch with a Crackberry (sic.), the Chief Executive was probably issued an NSA approved top secret device that costs $3,500. But the Obama Administration does not feel bound by the Presidential Records Act of 1978 and the Obama White House Counsel is refusing to release his Blackberry records regarding Solyndra. In contrast, President George W. Bush stopped using e-mail when he became President in 2001 to avoid exposing his personal communications to calls for public examination and having personal stuff get out.
It is also worth contemplating if this First Daughter Spring Break trip was strictly legal. The US State Department has issued travel advisories cautioning against non-essential trips to Mexico due to the increase of drug violence and potential abductions. In fact, the State Department specifically warned students to be careful during spring break trips South of the border to keep a low profile and avoid any displays of wealth. But these advisories to the general public was for various areas, which did not include Oaxaca. But the State Department’s policy of February 8th states:
U.S. government personnel and their families are prohibited from personal travel to all areas described as ‘defer non-essential travel’ and when travel for official purposes is essential it is conducted with extensive security precautions.
It is a tough sell to say that the First Daughter’s itinerary was OK as it was not in a covered zone, even though the safe zone can end two blocks from the shore. Moreover, Oaxaca had been on the warning zone in the past. Accepting that Malia’s trip was in an uncovered zone, was this Spring Break trip essential travel? Republican Presidential candidate former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) told Glenn Beck’s radio audience:
If the administration is saying that it's not safe to have people down there, then just because you can send 25 Secret Service agents doesn't mean you should do it... And when the government is saying this is not safe, then you don't set the example by sending your kids down there.
Sending 25 Secret Service agents into this fluid security environment does not seem like a common sense public policy, particularly for First Family pleasure trips
Be that as it may, the First Daughter Spring Break vacation sparked an Orwellian element, as news stories about the trip started to be “voluntarily” pulled by news organizations at the request of the White House. Christiana Schake, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Press Secretary issued a statement:
From the beginning of the administration, the White House has asked news outlets not to report on or photograph the Obama children when they are not with their parents and there is no vital news interest. We have reminded outlets of this request in order to protect the privacy and security of these girls.
When reminded of this “policy”, most “news” organizations recoiled and retracted their published stories, as retribution from an unset Oval Office was foreseeable. Ironically, the White House still had to make a statement about Malia’s safety after to Oaxaca earthquake, but that might be deemed as having a “vital news interest”.
It would be fine if the Obama’s were protective parents who trotted out their beautiful family as decorations at campaign rallies and attending semi-official Presidential ceremonies, like the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. But President Obama has used the visage of his children as adorable optics in news pegs, but only so long as our Dear Leaders controls the message.
For instance, President Obama had a gaggle of Lamestream Media reporters covering Mr. Obama walked his daughter Sasha to a 2009 Halloween Party in Chicago. After Obama had gotten the desired optic captured, the reporters continued to follow him. Obama lost his famous cool and barked “Back off” to a Polish photographer who was foolish enough to continue being a journalist rather than a stenographer for the powers that be.
Should a free press take diktats from the White House on what to cover? Should journalists with First Amendment protections and duties allow the public figure who is being covered determine what are appropriate inquires. Should the Chief Executive determine what domestic Administration documents should be public per the Presidential Records Act? Is the Lamestream Media afraid of retribution for actually doing their job?
It is troubling that President Obama seems to think that rules do not apply to his affairs yet those around him are supposed to contort themselves to unwritten rules. Rather than simply being concerned about yet another Obama pleasure trip, the public should be concerned that our President seems to be on vacation from common sense.