Obama, First Family Head for Martha's Vineyard

Load up the beach chairs and boogie boards on Air Force One -- the Obamas are going on a vacation.

The first family is leaving the White House and Washington behind and trading in the suits and skirts for flip flops and sunglasses and some fun in the sun on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

The vacation marks the first full week off for President Obama since he took office in January and the first real family vacation for the Obama family.

First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, have accompanied the president on jaunts overseas, but they have mostly kept their own schedule on those trips, taking in the sights and sounds of Europe while the president attended events and meetings.

Except for a few weekends at Camp David, and quick trips to Chicago and New York City, the president has stayed close to the White House so next week could be a true vacation, a break from policy and politics, if world events cooperate with his vacation plan.

Obama has no public events on his schedule for the week and aides said he was not planning to meet with staff on health care. The White House will rely on surrogates to keep the message going while the president is out of the public eye.

In an interview earlier this summer, Obama defended his taking a vacation at a time when many Americans are out of work or struggling in the weakened economy.

"Do I think the American people think that because of those hardships I shouldn't spend some quality time with my daughters?" Obama said on July 21 when asked if he felt "guilty" taking the time off. "I don't think that's what the American people think about it."

Republican strategist Kevin Madden said presidents deserve some time off to recharge their batteries.

"Every American should consider it in the context of their own job. Consider how stressful it is and then multiply that by 100 and then ponder the idea of not getting to take a vacation," he said.

John Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that presidents certainly deserve vacations, but like everything else in their lives, there are factors to consider.

"They have very demanding jobs and they are in the spotlight. But it's a political calculation as to where they go and what they should be seen doing," he said.

Madden noted that a presidential vacation can bring reward, but also risk.

"The main consideration here are the images: a presidential vacation can help the way it did for President Clinton when he visited the Grand Tetons, which are in a majestic national park setting," he said. "But you can also mistakenly convey a sense of detachment if the predominant image is one of a president on a gas-guzzling speedboat off the coast of Maine like President George H. W. Bush during the first Persian Gulf War."

What is the risk for Obama? Madden said he could look sheltered, vacationing on an expensive estate, and detached if he sits on a beach while the health care debate and other key issues continue to roll on without him.

First Family on the Farm

This is not Obama's first trip to the Vineyard. He has stayed there before for short vacations with friends, including senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, and has raised campaign cash on the island.

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