AS THE US economy endures high unemployment and a jittery stock market, President Barack Obama has preached sacrifice and fiscal discipline. But the pictures coming out of a sun-splashed Spanish resort may be sending a different message.
First lady Michelle Obama is in the midst of a five-day trip to a luxury resort along with a handful of friends, her younger daughter, aides and Secret Service. Her office said the Obamas would pay for personal expenses, but would not reveal the taxpayer cost for the government employees.
Elected officials – Democrats and Republicans – were reluctant to weigh in, not wanting to appear critical of the President’s wife. But the trip provided fodder for television news shows, talk-show hosts and bloggers. Critics portrayed the foreign getaway as tone-deaf to the deep economic anxiety back home. Every first family takes vacations: the criticism aimed at Mrs Obama is that she chose to visit a foreign country rather than remain in the US and support its fragile economy.
Just last month, Mrs Obama flew to the Florida panhandle, a tourist draw hit hard by the oil spill crisis, and delivered the message that for parents ”looking for things to do with their kids this summer … this is a wonderful place to visit”.
The opulence of the European trip also has drawn scrutiny. Mr Obama has urged frugality in lean economic times. He once cautioned that families saving money for college shouldn’t ”blow a bunch of cash in Vegas”.
Mrs Obama is staying at the Hotel Villa Padierna, a Ritz-Carlton resort outside Marbella. It has two golf courses, a spa with Turkish baths, views of the Mediterranean and a restaurant specialising in avant-garde fare. Room rates start at $US400 ($A436.73) and rise to $US6500 for a two-bedroom villa.
Mrs Obama flew in on a type of aircraft used by Vice-President Joe Biden. It costs the government $US11,555 an hour to operate the plane, according to the air force. Assuming a nearly eight-hour flight to nearby Malaga, the total round-trip cost of the flight is about $US178,000.