During the early Clinton years -- 1993 and 1994 -- the first couple vacationed in Martha's Vineyard hobnobbing with celebrities and cruising on Ted Kennedy's yacht. The result was that during each of the two summers, as they dived into the surf, so they dived in the polls. The last drop, after the summer of 1994, played a role in their loss of their congressional majorities a few months later. Now Michelle Obama is making the same mistake ... and at a worse time.
Voters are highly sensitive to where their elected officials vacation, especially when they themselves cannot afford a vacation and have to take a "stay-cation" instead. Now, with unemployment at almost 10 percent and underemployment reaching nearly 20 percent, voters are not likely to take any vicarious pleasure from the recreation of the first family -- particularly since they are paying for it.
Not much goes on during the summer. And stories about the first lady's travel will find plenty of dead airtime to fill on TV news shows and in newspaper columns.
Some have compared Michelle Obama's travels to those of former first lady Hillary Clinton. But, rushing to Hillary's defense (which we don't often do), her trip schedules were filled with visits to day care centers, women's shelters, village health programs and the like. The only official event on Mrs. Obama's schedule is a lunch with the king and queen of Spain. Part of the problem is that Hillary hated vacations, and Michelle, obviously, does not. But the political damage Mrs. Obama's trip will leave behind will hurt her husband's efforts to keep control of Congress in November.
And they will compound the damage by vacationing in Martha's Vineyard after her return from Spain. We already know how that plays in the polls.
I urged the Clintons to vacation in the Rockies -- to go camping, after my polling suggested that such a trip would be much more popular to voters than splashing with celebrities in the Vineyard. They did just that in 1995 and 1996. They both hated every minute of it. But they did it, and the polls reflected their efforts.
Now Michelle needs to learn a lesson in desperation from the Clintons.