RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – It’s perhaps appropriate that President Barack Obama is vacationing this weekend in California, where the state flag features a roaming grizzly.
The restless president, who has compared himself to a caged animal on recent wanderings by declaring the “bear is loose,” took a long Father’s Day weekend away with his wife and older daughter.
The visit to the desert resort area of Palm Springs is one of the ways Obama has been trying to escape during his sixth year cloistered in the White House.
“I think frankly we’ve all been through a cold and bitter winter and the bear has cabin fever,” said Obama friend and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. “His cabin is a little bit bigger and harder to escape than most.”
Obama has fantasized about being “on a beach somewhere drinking out of a coconut” or simply being able to walk out of the White House gate and stroll around unrecognized.
In California, Obama has worked out mornings at a gym near the Rancho Mirage home where the first family is staying with White House decorator Michael Smith and his partner, James Costos, the American ambassador to Spain.
The hilltop home has sweeping views, a private tennis court and trapezoid swimming pool. Despite temperatures above 100 degrees, Obama was able to golf at two nearby courses — Saturday at the Sunnylands estate and Sunday at the Porcupine Creek Estate owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison.
Obama interspersed his four-day weekend with official duties, including Democratic Party fundraising, a speech on climate change and calls to his national security adviser discussing military options to stop a violent insurgency in Iraq. As his administration announced that some staff were being evacuated from the Baghdad embassy, Obama was on the golf course.
Obama seemed determined not to let the crisis overseas keep him from getting a break, in a time-honoured tradition of presidents going on working vacations even as some question the optics.
“Sometimes when all of the brown stuff is hitting the rotating blades, a vacation is not the best thing to go on,” said Dana Perino, who was President George W. Bush’s press secretary.
She speaks from experience — Bush vacationed during Hurricane Katrina and made frequent visits to Camp David or his Texas ranch to fulfil his desire to get outdoors.
“There were times the president wanted to go on a bike ride,” Perino said, “but I’d have to say, ‘Mr. President, there was a bombing in Iraq,’ or ‘The markets are tanking.'”
Obama has taken three weekends away in a golf-friendly place this year after kicking off 2014 on the links in Hawaii.
The Obama family also is planning a longer-than-usual summer vacation to Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks in August, where last summer the president golfed nearly every day on the island.
Obama has golfed every weekend since Washington’s weather got clear enough to allow it in April, save a week when he was in Asia.
Those close to Obama say his frequent golf outings are less about a love of the game than a desire to take a long walk outside. Obama also has been seen walking the darkened White House grounds, late into the evening, sometime with one of his dogs.
Last week Obama left his security detail, staff and press corps scrambling with the simple act of spontaneously walking about 350 yards from the West Wing to Starbucks. He told reporters who rushed to catch up with him to give him some space.
The next day, unannounced, he took Education Secretary Arne Duncan out for a burger. He also recently stopped by a Little League game and walked to an event at the Interior Department near the White House, shaking hands with surprised tourists along the way.
“I might walk up to the Lincoln Memorial, sit on there,” Obama said when asked on the “Live with Kelly and Michael” talk show what he would choose if he could do anything unrecognized. “Maybe I’d wander around and find myself at a little outdoor cafe or something and sit and order something and just watch people go by. The thing you miss most about being president is anonymity.”
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