VIA: New York Times
HONOLULU — As Air Force One lifted off late Sunday night, President Obama and his family left behind a balmy 77-degree Hawaiian evening. Bearing east, the plane headed toward Washington, where the temperature was a brisk 23 degrees.
If a 54-degree climate swing were not reason enough to lament the end of vacation, Mr. Obama certainly had others. He was returning to a Washington in the throes of a political furor over the security breakdown that led to the attempted bombing of an American passenger jet on Christmas Day.
And if that were not daunting enough, the president faced a pile of other new and old business in his Oval Office in-box. He has a State of the Union address to draft, a budget proposal to finish, financial regulations to lobby for and a jobs plan to mull. Picking up where he left off just before the holiday, he must also help fashion a compromise between competing House and Senate bills if he wants to sign a health care overhaul into law in the next few weeks.
No wonder the Obamas seemed in a mood to rethink their departure. As they toured the Honolulu Zoo on Sunday afternoon a few hours before packing up and breaking camp, a reporter asked the first family if they were ready to go back to the mainland.
“No,” they all cried in unison, led by the president.
“Let’s stay,” Michelle Obama volunteered. “We’ll all stay. Are we all in? I’m trying to mount a coup.”
After all, this was not quite the vacation Mrs. Obama had imagined. In the days leading up to the holidays, she told visitors to the White House that she expected no news to break during the family’s 10-day trip to the president’s home state and added that she would not be happy if any did.
Enter a Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to ignite explosives hidden in his underwear on Northwest Flight 253 as it approached Detroit. As a result, the president ended up huddling each day with advisers who traveled here with him and conferring by secure telephone with others back in Washington. He made two statements to reporters and taped a radio and Internet address about the incident.
Talk of sticking around until Monday evaporated and instead the president opted for an overnight flight so that he could arrive back at the White House by lunchtime on Monday. “He’s headed back on a redeye so that he can sleep on the plane and jump right back into the full plate he’s got in front of him this week,” said Bill Burton, a White House spokesman who accompanied the president.
No need to fret too much for the president. An overnight flight is not such an ordeal for him, since he has a pretty decent bedroom aboard Air Force One. But staff members on long trips like that are left to fend for themselves in seats or sometimes on pads laid out on the floor. At least no one will stop them from going to the bathroom in the final hour of flight or order them to remove blankets from their laps.
As much as the terrorist attack shifted the tone of the vacation, Mr. Obama still managed to get in a wide array of activity since arriving on Christmas Eve. He played golf and basketball with friends like Eric Whitaker and Marty Nesbitt from Chicago as well as his old Hawaii pals, Bobby Titcomb, Mike Ramos and Greg Orme. He went snorkeling with the family in picturesque Hanauma Bay. He took his girls, Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, to visit the local Sea Life Park, to see “Avatar” at a local shopping mall movie theater cleared out just for them and to get the famous shaved ice at Island Snow, where he ordered the “Snowbama” (lemon lime, cherry and passion guava).
For lunch, there were beach picnics plus an afternoon at Mr. Titcomb’s house on Oahu’s North Shore. Most evenings the family and friends, occupying three adjoining rental houses in Kailua, stayed in for dinner, although they all headed out for a couple of excursions to Alan Wong’s in Honolulu and Lucy’s Grill n’ Bar near the compound in Kailua.
On his last day in Hawaii, Mr. Obama paid a visit to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater, where his grandfather is entombed. There, as at most of his stops over the course of the holiday, he made no public comments. In fact, for most of the trip, he remained out of view of the pool of reporters and photographers that follows him everywhere he goes — no pictures of the presidential pecs this time.
But if Mr. Obama still loves Hawaii, where he was born and spent most of his childhood and where he has visited four times in the last 18 months, Hawaii certainly returns the favor. City and state lawmakers are busy planning to rename all manner of places after the native-son president.
If his supporters have their way, according to the Honolulu Advertiser, there may soon be the President Barack Obama Beach Park at Magic Island, the President Barack Obama Birthplace State Park, President Barack Hussein Obama II Elementary School and President Barack Hussein Obama II High School.
Moreover, the apartment building where he lived with his grandparents may be put on the National Register of Historic Places. His birthday, Aug. 4, may be declared an official state holiday called Barack Obama Day. And the anniversary of his inauguration, Jan. 20, may be recognized as Barack Obama II Ohana Day. (Ohana refers to the sense of family in Hawaiian culture.)
Bathed in the love, it would not be all that surprising for Mr. Obama to want to linger. But all good things come to an end. After the longest break of his year-old presidency, Mr. Obama had to return to the cold, hard task of governing a nation still fighting two overseas wars and just emerging from recession.
Sometime before Air Force One was to land at Andrews Air Force Base, Mr. Obama presumably will have shucked the khaki shorts and sunglasses in favor of a wool overcoat. And perhaps a coat of armor.
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