THE BLOG
08/19/2011 01:01 pm ET | Updated Oct 19, 2011

Think Again: Remember Bush's Vacation

President Obama is under fire for any number of things, but the one that appears to excite reporters the most is his decision to take a few days' vacation. According to Politico:

"Images of Obama fundraising, golfing and on vacation -- especially in such a well-heeled location -- undercut his message that the economy is his 'singular focus,'" said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist.

Last week, a few hours after the White House announced the president would head to Martha's Vineyard Thursday for a 10-day vacation, the Republican National Committee sent out a press release querying, "And this is the same White House that says they are focused on the economy?"

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich told Fox News host Sean Hannity that Obama "ought to cancel his vacation -- period." And before Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the presidential race, he also urged Obama to skip his trip, "call the Congress back into session and get to work."

Even The Washington Post's liberal opinion writer Colbert I. King opined last weekend that "this is no time for a president to dwell in splendid seclusion among the rich and famous."

"No, Mr. President, Martha's Vineyard is the last place in the world you should visit next week," King wrote.

All this criticism reminds me of funny moment I experienced 10 years ago this August in East Hampton, New York. I was driving home from the beach and listening to the amazingly great radio station they have out there (92.9 and 96.9)--a throwback to my blissful youth listening to WNEW-FM--and the DJ was going on and on about how he could not believe that George W. Bush, then president, was going to get an entire month off at his mini-ranch, no doubt "clearing brush," whatever that means, when there was so much work to be done.

I don't remember the guy's name, but I remember he went on for 10 or 15 minutes about how difficult it was for most Americans to make do with just two weeks vacation while the average in Western Europe is six weeks. By the end of that August, though Bush had only been in office since January 20, he had already managed 96 days of vacation time, or nearly 14 times as much as most Americans enjoyed during that period. As it happens, Bush ended up setting a presidential record for vacation days taken, more than 500 days over the course of his two administrations or an unbelievable 33.4 percent of his presidency.

We all know what happened at the end of Bush's 2001 vacation, and that, dear reader, is the real reason for this column. With the coming 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we are about to be treated to a great many attempts by conservatives, aided by a remarkably ahistorical mainstream media, to rewrite the history of those events. As with almost every significant aspect of the Bush presidency, its handling of 9/11 was a catastrophe from start to finish. To illustrate this one could pick almost any aspect of the Bush administration's handling of those attacks--both in preparation in protecting the nation or its disastrous response that brought the world's hatred upon our heads and involved us in an unnecessary and counterproductive war in Iraq and failed to do the necessary job in Afghanistan--as well as compromised civil liberties in the United States, among many other unhappy consequences.

Borrowing from a section of my 2004 tome, The Book on Bush, I've chosen below to focus on just a tiny portion of the Bush administration's shocking combination of arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence in refusing to take seriously the very idea of an attack before it took place. My hope is to not only to help remind readers of the actual facts of this unhappy episode but also to stimulate discussion about the costs of allowing America's security to be entrusted to people who cannot be bothered to take responsibilities of governance seriously.

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As a candidate, George W. Bush complained that the Clinton administration had invited a challenge by failing to respond to previous terrorist attacks. For instance, one day after the October 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole, candidate Bush proclaimed, "There must be a consequence." Yet an FBI document dated January 26, 2001--six days after Bush took office--demonstrates that even though U.S. authorities discovered what they deemed to be clear evidence tying the Cole bombers to al Qaeda, Bush did nothing.

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This post has been modified since its original publication.