Obama plunges into Gulf debate with swim stunt
President finds himself in deep water over Gulf trip and 9/11 mosque plans
President Barack Obama waded into controversy for the second time this weekend, with a stage-managed 'holiday' to the oil-stricken Gulf of Mexico which lasted all of 26 hours. He was attacked not only for the obvious publicity stunt – but also for involving his nine-year-old daughter in it.
In scenes reminiscent of Tory minister John Gummer's controversial 1990 photocall with his four-year-old daughter Cordelia - when he attempted to feed her a beef burger at the height of the BSE scare - Obama was photographed swimming in the Gulf with Sasha (above).
His aim was to restore public confidence in Florida's resort towns which have been badly hit by cancellations in the wake of the BP oil spill.
The President, First Lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha were photographed enjoying the delights of the Florida Panhandle: a game of mini-golf - in which Sasha nailed a hole-in-one - and a porpoise-spotting cruise around St Andrews Bay. Elder daughter Malia avoided the family outing by going to summer camp.
The White House also released a single photograph by its official photographer Pete Souza of Obama and Sasha taking a dip in the sea at Panama City Beach’s Alligator Point. All other photographers were banned from the photocall.
Although the Panhandle area is on the eastern edge of the oil spill, its beaches were still hit by tar balls and an oily sheen. The President promised that the beaches along the Gulf Coast were now "clean, safe and... open for business". He told reporters: "That's one of the reasons Michelle, Sasha and I are here."
But after just a day in Florida, the Obamas were back in Washington by Sunday lunchtime - to prepare for their real holiday later this week: a 10-day vacation on Martha's Vineyard.
According to the New York Times, the Obamas did not even stay the full 27 hours in Florida scheduled for them by the White House, spending just 26 hours on the ground. In a piece titled ‘The Obamas don’t linger on Gulf Coast’ the newspaper noted: “They came, they swam, they played miniature golf. They left an hour early.”
Obama's Gulf mission followed an equally controversial foray into the dispute over the mosque planned near the former World Trade Center in New York. Having avoided entering the debate - which has seen several prominent Republicans, including Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin, oppose the mosque - Obama said at a White House dinner on Friday: "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.”
On Saturday, he appeared to backtrack, saying: "I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there."
Nevertheless, Republicans have accused him of being out of touch with “ordinary American feelings” on the subject. "To me it demonstrates that Washington, the White House, the Administration, the President himself seems to be disconnected from the mainstream of America," said John Cornyn, a Republican senator for Texas. ·
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