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Explainer: The varying reactions to President Obama's golf

August 22, 2014

If you've been following the news, you'll know that President Barack Obama has been under fire recently for what his critics say is too much golf. We'll let the left-right politics sites debate whether that's fair or not, and instead attempt to put the whole thing in context.

How did this all start?__

__Obama's critics have long derided the president for the amount of golf he's been playing while in office, but the recent outrage has less to do with his number of rounds (although that is playing a role), and more to do with when he's playing them. He played golf after giving a statement on the continuing racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo., and then again shortly after an emotional statement on the ISIS murder of American journalist James Foley. While British Prime Minister David Cameron chose to suspend his vacation, pictures began circulating of Obama smiling and fist-pumping friends on the course, provoking strong reactions from the right's Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, and even some left-leaning voices, like Vox's Ezra Klein.

According to CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller, the leading authority in counting this stuff, Obama plays more golf than other presidents -- almost 200 rounds since January 2009 -- but that doesn't necessarily mean more vacation time. Knoller compared Obama's time away to his predecessor, George W. Bush, and found that Bush played a lot less golf (24 rounds over the same time period) but took more vacation days (381, compared to Obama's 129). Either way, it's generally agreed that criticizing any president's vacation time is a little silly, which is why people are more upset by the timing.

Is Obama being singled out more than his predecessors?

Not really. It's not necessarily the fairest thing to do, but taking on a president's leisure activities is such low-hanging fruit that the opposition usually can't resist. You may remember Democrats ridiculing George W. Bush in 2002 for his "watch this drive" gaffe seconds after a strongly worded message on terrorism. But that's not to suggest this is a recent phenomenon. On the contrary, this line of criticism is practically as old as politics itself. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a largely beloved president and glorified war hero, was targeted in a 1956 attack ad by his Democrat opponent Adlai Stevenson for going quail hunting during the Dien Bien Phu Crisis.

So is this the end of it?

Probably not. Golf is still the best sport ever (obviously), but even Obama insiders have confided the timing of his round so soon after the Foley murder was problematic. Nevertheless, this is all really about the 2016 presidential election. Candidates will start campaigning next year, and Republicans are ideally trying to paint the Democrats as a party unfit to run the country. If it was a Republican in office -- as there may be after the next election -- Democrats would be doing the same thing.