If you’re the president of the United States these days, you probably have a lot on your plate: a massive oil spill in the Gulf, a rogue nuclear fuel program in Iran, a stubborn 9.5 percent unemployment rate that has stirred considerable public angst and threatens to undo your party’s dominance at the polls.
And then there is the brouhaha over your abs.
That’s, at least, if you’re President Obama, who caused quite a stir when he went bodysurfing in Hawaii after the presidential election in 2008. The New York Post dubbed him “Ab-bama,” and even consulted a Manhattan fitness expert, who ventured that the hard-bodied leader of the free world “must be doing major cardio.”
We’re bound to see plenty more quotes like that in the coming days, as the president travels to Panama City, Florida, for what White House officials have described as a working vacation. The trip is also an answer to critics who allege that the First Family has neglected Florida, one of the states affected by the oil spill in the Gulf, in favor of other, less tarnished vacation spots, like Martha’s Vineyard, where the Obamas plan to spend 10 days. McClatchy called the trip to Panama City “the vacation the Obamas feel obliged to take before they can enjoy the vacation they want.”
The question of whether Obama will take a dip during his 27-hour jaunt in Panama City dominated the White House press briefing today, prompting some testy exchanges with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who was clearly exasperated by the line of questioning. “Look, he’s going to have some fun,” Gibbs said, in response to a round robin of ab-themed queries from the White House press corps. “Whether or not he gets in the water is up for, clearly, some debate.”
Already, several commentators have joined that debate, urging Obama to take his shirt off — for the good of the country. Stephen Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University, told CNN that Obama could help dispel the notion among vacationers that Florida’s beaches have been marred with the same oozy crude that has contaminated the fragile marshes along the Louisiana coastline. “Absolutely, I want him to take his shirt off and get in the water and show it’s clean and safe,” Leatherman said.
As USA Today noted, Obama seemed a little embarrassed — and more than a little peeved — about the shirtless photos that emerged from his Hawaii vacation two years ago. It seems unlikely, then, that even if he does oblige a quick dip in the water on Saturday, there will be cameras around to capture the moment for posterity.
But that hasn’t stopped local officials from holding out hope.
“I would love to have them stay a couple more days, but we’re just thankful they’re coming,” Panama City Mayor Scott Clemons told Politico. “I just hope they spend some time on the beach.”