I've spent the last four years covering the Obama presidency and tweeting about it on a daily basis from the White House briefing room. And the Twitter messages I get — thousands of them — tell me that there are folks who will believe absolutely anything regardless of whether it is a distorted or a bald-faced lie, and regardless of whether factual information is staring them in the face.
I neither support nor oppose President Obama. I disagree with about half of what he has tried to do. But I do support trying to determine what is accurate and true and what is not. With that in mind, I deconstruct, based on four years worth of observation, the top five bogus myths about Obama:
1. Obama has played more golf than any president in history
This isn't even close to being true. Now, there's no question that he plays on a regular basis: 104 rounds from January 2009 through Aug. 4 of this year, the last time he played, according to Mark Knoller, the longtime White House correspondent for CBS Radio. That puts him about in the middle when compared with other duffers-in-chief. It's less than Bill Clinton, and a lot less than Dwight Eisenhower, who played more than 800 rounds over eight years — four times as often as Obama plays.
And why is it an outrage if the president, who heads one of three branches of government, golfs 104 times in three-and-a-half-years, but the head of another branch of government, the Speaker of the House, plays four times as much? You heard correctly: John Boehner once told Golf Digest that he plays upwards of 100 rounds a year. Seems like a double standard, no?
2. Obama has taken more vacation time than any president in history
This isn't even remotely accurate either, but first, some context from Nancy Reagan: "Presidents don't get vacations — they just get a change of scenery. The job goes with you." The responsibilities, the pressure, the officer with the "nuclear football" — it's all with a commander-in-chief at all times. No exceptions.
But how much time away from the White House has President Obama spent, and how does this compare with predecessors?
POTUS Tracker, compiled by The Washington Post, shows that from January 2009 to October 31, 2012, Obama spent all or part of 72 vacation days in a variety of places, mostly Hawaii in the winter and Martha's Vineyard in the summer. That's about 10 weeks away in three-and-a-half years, hardly extravagant. Through May 18, according to data from CBS's Knoller, he also visited Camp David 22 times, spending all of part of 54 days there.
What about his predecessors?
· In 1798, President John Adams left the capital for seven months to care for his ailing wife Abigail; his enemies said he practically relinquished his office.
· Thomas Jefferson and James Madison routinely went away for three- and four-month stretches.
· Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, was blasted for spending about 25 percent of his time away from the White House.
· Dwight Eisenhower took long summer breaks in Denver and spent almost every single weekend at Camp David.
· John F. Kennedy rarely spent a weekend in the White House, staying at family homes in Palm Beach, Hyannis Port, and the Virginia countryside.
· Lyndon Johnson spent 484 days in five and a half years at his Texas ranch.
· Ronald Reagan was away for 436 days, usually at Rancho del Cielo (his mountaintop retreat in California) or Camp David.
· Bill Clinton, who didn't own a vacation home, loved to party with his elite friends in Martha's Vineyard and the Hamptons.
· George W. Bush spent 32 months at his ranch (490 days) or Camp David (487 days) — an average of four months away every year.
Time off doesn't mean goofing off. President Bush, for example, met with a variety of foreign leaders at his ranch. President Obama held a G-8 summit at Camp David. Just like you might check your email while sitting on the beach (you fool, you), presidents never really unplug. But if anyone deserves a vacation, it is the person who serves in the world's most stressful and demanding job.
3. Obama shows his true colors by not going to Arlington National Cemetery
Sadly, the days we set aside to honor those who have worn the uniform of our country — and made the ultimate sacrifice — have become highly politicized. There is an expectation that presidents should go to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial and Veterans Day. Certainly, any commander-in-chief should mark these sacred days in such fashion. But paying tribute to those whose final resting place is in any other of America's other 130 national cemeteries is no less honorable.
That being said, the tradition of going to Arlington itself on Memorial Day is fairly new. Most presidents never, or rarely, went. Let's look at the past six decades:
· Eisenhower: Twice in eight years
· Kennedy: Never in three years
· Johnson: Once in five years
· Nixon: Never in six years
· Ford: Twice in two years
· Carter: Never in four years
· Reagan: Three times in eight years
· Bush Sr.: Never in four years
· Clinton: Eight times in eight years
· Bush Jr.: Seven times in eight years
· Obama: Three times in four years
Bush Jr. and Obama really have perfect records as far as I'm concerned. The one year Bush wasn't at Arlington he was at Normandy, honoring the heroes of D-Day. The one year Obama wasn't at Arlington he was at a National Cemetery in Illinois, where the heroes who rest in peace are no less deserving of our respect than those who rest in Arlington.
4. Obama has never visited Israel as president, which shows he doesn't give a damn about it
It's true that Barack Obama, as president, hasn't visited the Jewish state. Not once in four years. He's in good company:
· Nixon waited five-and-a half years to visit
· Ford never went
· Carter went once in four years
· Reagan never went in eight years
· Bush Sr. never went
· Clinton went six times in eight years
· Bush Jr. waited seven years to visit
That Obama hasn't gone, therefore, means two things: 1) Jack and 2) Squat. It's true he and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu don't like each other personally, but the more important issue is whether he's committed to Israeli security. Hardline Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a hawk who, with Netanyahu, has been the driving force behind a possible attack on Iran, says:
I can see long years, administrations of both sides of the political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israeli and I believe that reflects a profound feeling among the American people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.
Then there's Dennis Ross, who has spent a whole lot of time with five Republican and Democratic presidents, not to mention their Israeli counterparts.
I've worked with every Israeli prime minister in the past 30 years, and there have always been ups and downs. But you don't really see the kind of language we're hearing now. It must be the polarization. I can't explain it otherwise.
If you think you know better, Mr. Armchair Expert, than Israel's own hardline defense minister and the guy who has worked with Republican presidents, Democratic presidents, and every Israeli prime minister over the past three decades, I'm all ears.
5. Taxes under Obama are at an all-time high
If you buy this one, congratulations: You've failed not just history, but economics as well. Between the combined burden of federal, state, and local income taxes, Americans are parting with the smallest share of their income since 1958. The Bureau of Economic Analysis says we pay 23.6 percent of what we make, down from an average of about 27 percent during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
What makes you think that any president is responsible for what state and local governments take from you anyway? Never mind that Congress controls the federal purse strings, and never mind that cuts in income tax rates and payroll tax rates have been in effect for several years now. Of course, this could all change come January, unless hyper-divided Washington can somehow find a way to cooperate and avoid taking the economy over the fiscal cliff. But for now, the notion that taxes are gobbling up more of our hard earned income than ever is, to use a word we've heard often during this long and often dishonest campaign, malarkey.
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