Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and taught this summer at NYU's study-abroad site in Accra, Ghana. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).
When William Howard Taft was president in the early 1900s, a cartoon showed a senator stuffing a bill into the mouth of a GOP elephant while a happily unaware Taft played golf. Mr. Dooley, the imaginary Irish-American bartender created by cartoonist Finley Peter Dunne, quoted Taft as saying, “Golf is th’ thing I like best next to leavin’ Washington.”
Taft actually combined these passions, taking frequent golf vacations out of town, as Paul F. Boller, Jr. recounts in his book "Presidential Diversions: Presidents at Play from George Washington to George W. Bush." Taft's trips sparked mirth in the national press, which reported that the famously corpulent president could not bend over to tee up his own ball. But they also drew accusations that Taft was neglecting his official duties, and for a rich man’s sport at that.
And so began our annual summer ritual: Rate the President’s Vacations. The temperature goes up, the news cycle slows down, and partisans bicker over how the Leader of the Free World is spending his free time.
Witness Republican attacks on President Obama, whose recent trip to Africa with the first family – which combined work with play – cost taxpayers between $60 million and $100 million. Mr. Obama also drew fire earlier this year for his three-day golf excursion at an exclusive club in Florida, where he played a round with Tiger Woods. The Obamas will reportedly return in August to the famously tony Martha’s Vineyard, generating untold millions in security and staffing expenses....