Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
President Barack Obama leaves after a news conference the White House briefing room in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011.
WASHINGTON — Ah, Christmas traditions: colored lights, mistletoe and criticisms of a president's vacation plans.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is hammering President Barack Obama for playing golf and planning his usual family Christmas in Hawaii. Obama should spend more time fixing the economy, says Romney, who is using the issue to raise money.
For some Democrats and Republicans, it's a tired tactic. Every president spends time away from Washington and engages in weekend recreation or relaxation, they note. Former aides to Obama's predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, say all presidents have a right to such pastimes.
"Presidencies wear people out," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier this year. "And they just simply deserve a break, especially a president with a couple little kids."
Another former Bush aide, Tony Fratto, defended Obama in 2009, the president's first year in office.
"There should be no criticism of presidents making occasional personal travel," Fratto said. Presidents are also "husbands and fathers, and the pace and pressure of the job are incredible."
Fleischer and Fratto are familiar with the subject. Bush spent 490 days as president at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and 487 days at Camp David — one-third of his eight-year presidency, according to record-keeper Mark Knoller of CBS News. Like Obama and other presidents, Bush noted that he worked during much of the time he spent outside the White House.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said in an Iowa telephone conference call this week that in some respects, Obama's "idea of a 'hands-on' approach to the economy is getting a grip on his golf club."
"He's going off for 17 days in Hawaii. He'll be playing a lot of golf," Romney said.
Romney used similar language in a new fundraising letter that asks for $18 — one for each hole on a golf course.
Obama recently announced plans to spend Christmas in his native Hawaii, a family tradition. It soon appeared likely the trip would be shortened because of Congress's struggle to pass important tax and spending legislation.
"We are going to stay here as long as it takes to make sure that the American people's taxes don't go up on January 1st," Obama told reporters Thursday. If Congress fails to meet its deadline, he said, "maybe we'll have a white Christmas here in Washington."
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Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, "I don't remember Gov. Romney having a hard time or complaining about this president's predecessor taking his family on vacation — spending, I believe, far more time on vacation than this president."
Other presidents, including Dwight Eisenhower, were sometimes accused of devoting too much time to golf. Bush had at least one controversial moment involving the sport.
Speaking to journalists from a golf course in August 2002, Bush sternly condemned world terrorism. Then, in a transition that seemed jarring, he said, "watch this drive," and hit his tee shot.