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First Lady Michele Obama’s jet-set travels leave critics shaking their heads and wondering why she is living large at taxpayer expense while her husband preaches financial restraint to the rest of America.
Her apparent clueless habit of jetting off to exotic locales while America struggles fuels criticism that she and her husband are out of touch with working class Americans.
At the very least, they aren’t thinking about the message that the First Lady’s lavish travels sends to Americans who struggle to make mortgage payments and put food on the table.
As the U.S. economy endures high unemployment and a jittery stock market, President Obama has preached sacrifice and fiscal discipline. But the pictures coming out of a sunsplashed Spanish resort this week may be sending a different message.
First lady Michelle Obama is on a five-day trip to a luxury resort along with a handful of friends, her younger daughter, Sasha, aides and Secret Service personnel. Her office said the first family will pay for personal expenses, but declined to reveal the taxpayer cost for the government employees. The president stayed home in the United States, as did daughter Malia, 12, who is at camp.
The trip provided plenty of fodder for television news shows, talk-show hosts and bloggers.
Critics portrayed the foreign getaway as tone deaf to the economic anxiety back home. Earlier in the week, the first lady was photographed walking through the streets of the Costa del Sol region wearing a one-shouldered Jean Paul Gaultier top.
Every first family takes vacations. The criticism aimed at Michelle Obama is that she chose to visit a foreign country rather than remain in the United States and support its fragile economy.
In July, the first lady flew to the Florida Panhandle, a tourist spot hit hard by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and delivered the message that for parents “looking for things to do with their kids this summer … this is a wonderful place to visit.”
The opulence of the European trip also has drawn scrutiny. Michelle Obama is staying at the Hotel Villa Padierna, a Ritz-Carlton resort in the mountains outside Marbella. The resort has two golf courses, a posh spa with Turkish baths, views of the Mediterranean Sea and a high-end restaurant specializing in avant-garde fare. Room rates start at $400 and rise to $6,500 for a two-bedroom villa with a private pool and 24-hour butler service.
Writes Andrea Tantaros in The New York Daily News:
Sacrifice is something that many Americans are becoming all too familiar with during this economic downturn. It was a key theme in President Obama’s inaugural address to the nation, and he’s referenced it numerous times when lecturing the country on how to get back on its feet.
But while most of the country is pinching pennies and downsizing summer sojourns – or forgoing them altogether – the Obamas don’t seem to be heeding their own advice. While many of us are struggling, the First Lady is spending the next few days in a five-star hotel on the chic Costa del Sol in southern Spain with 40 of her “closest friends.” According to CNN, the group is expected to occupy 60 to 70 rooms, more than a third of the lodgings at the 160-room resort. Not exactly what one would call cutting back in troubled times.
Reports are calling the lodgings of Obama’s Spanish fiesta, the Hotel Villa Padierna in Marbella, “luxurious,” “posh” and “a millionaires’ playground.” Estimated room rate per night? Up to a staggering $2,500. Method of transportation? Air Force Two.
To be clear, what the Obamas do with their money is one thing; what they do with ours is another. Transporting and housing the estimated 70 Secret Service agents who will flank the material girl will cost the taxpayers a pretty penny.
Perhaps it could be that the Obamas, who seem to fancy themselves more along the lines of international celebrities than actual leaders, espouse a different view of sacrifice. When Michelle Obama accompanied her husband to Copenhagen along with best buddy Oprah Winfrey, she billed the trip – an ultimately unsuccessful bid to bring the Olympics to Chicago – as follows: “As much of a sacrifice as people say this is for me or Oprah or the President to come for these few days, so many of you in this room have been working for years to bring this bid home.”
Maureen Dowd of The New York Times weighs in:
Her critics used to paint her as a scary Marxist. Now they cast her as a spoiled princess.
During the campaign, she was caricatured on the cover of The New Yorker as a fist-bumping, gun-toting Black Panther. Now she’s mocked by a New York Daily News blogger as a jet-setting, free-spending Marie Antoinette. (On Spain’s Costa del Sol with Sasha on her husband’s 49th birthday, she did, in effect, say let him eat cake — alone.)
Michelle Obama is the most popular figure in the administration, but last week she had her first brush with getting brushed back in the press.
Some of the women anchoring news shows on MSNBC debated whether the first lady was being “mean” to her husband by deserting him on his birthday for a girls’ getaway to Spain, and whether it was sort of sad, as one put it, that the president, drowning in troubles, had to go to Chicago to find friends (including Oprah) to celebrate with.