There are so many reasons to criticize President Obama's decision to allow his daughter to spend her spring break down Mexico way in the city of Oaxaca. Some of these reasons are depressingly ignorant, but others are refreshingly stupid. Not knowing anything about Oaxaca is a good place to start.
I'm afraid Malia Obama was just not having a Jenna Bush-style spring break. The colonial capital of Oaxaca, where I've lived for years, is an eight-hour drive from the ocean: Nobody comes here to do the Girls Gone Wild thing on the beach. (And to be honest, even Jenna Bush was never really Jenna Bush.)
The assumption was that Malia was off to a location where drug cartels would immediately convene a poker summit to determine which would have the privilege of kidnapping her. As I've written about at length, however, the city of Oaxaca is considerably less dangerous than Washington. Her father had a much greater chance of being kidnapped by staying at home.
The ugly truth is this: The President did a horribly responsible thing. He forced his daughter to spend her spring break somewhere both safe and culturally significant. She was in genuine danger of learning something, and that was pretty much the full extent of her peril. (Well, there was that earthquake, but we're not going to blame President Obama for that, are we? That's the fault of homosexuals.)
Rather than shipping her off to Old Europe -- which would have given his critics something to grumble about ("pretentious," "out of touch with the common man," "fries without freedom") -- he conveyed her to Even Older North America. His critics of course don't realize this: Their semi-dimensional view of Mexico involves sombreros and body shots; the last thing they can be expected to know is that Malia Obama was visiting a city that makes the United States of America look like an infant. A culture whose accomplishments are, viewed from a neutral distance, no less impressive than America's.
I can hear Rick Santorum snorting from here. And to be fair, from his perspective the greatest local achievement might in fact be insignificant: The Zapotec in Monte Albán invented writing.
Still, to some people that's kind of impressive. It's a thing that can be said with certainty of only one other civilization: Sumerian Mesopotamia. Even China, India, and Egypt may have inherited the rudiments of writing from other cultures. (Okay, a recent highly dubious discovery suggests that, just maybe, the Olmec in Veracruz were writing letters home to their mothers even before the Zapotec. I'm not convinced, however. And neither, I'm sure, is Malia.)
The Zapotec capital is older than London, older than Paris. Malia will have encountered glyphs in a language more mysterious than Mayan: We'll almost certainly never crack the Zapotec code; we do not have the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone, and probably never will.)
The President's daughter made a pilgrimage to El Tule, the largest tree in the world. (I know this because I was in a taxi and the guy on the radio said so. Not because I was stalking her.) She has experienced wonders. No wonder Obama's critics are annoyed. How dare he educate his daughter?
I'll pass over in silence the fact that she was volunteering at an orphanage. Some things are just too obscene to contemplate.
Julie Gunlock at the National Reviewspeaks for me: "I am shocked that they don't recognize Malia's time-out in Mexico as a fundamentally inappropriate activity for a 13-year-old, and a terrible message to send American families...."
Like you, I prefer my presidential critique with a side of meanness and hypocrisy, and the schoolmarms have not disappointed here. Rick Santorum in particular scrooged eloquent: Obama was spending taxpayers' money on a Secret Service detail to keep his daughter safe.
If Obama truly had family values, he'd want her to be in danger.
Oh, okay, that's not what Mr. Santorum meant.
What our next leader really meant was that if Obama were anything like ordinary presidents, he would have the decency to dress his family in rags, and for leisure send them out into the streets of Washington with begging bowls. That's what George Walker Bush did. No vacations for his family. How dare Barack Obama put any part of the presidential budget towards matters of so little consequence as the safety and happiness of his children?
I don't honestly believe that those making a stink would ever wish Malia harm. Most of these people, however incensed, do in fact have values of the family flavour. They simply don't like that, well, that, there are things that are clearly happening that they don't like. They hate that. Furthermore, these things involve Obama. That's triply disgraceful. It's a disgrace and an outrage. And an expensive one.
I doubt they'll read what I've just written about Oaxaca: about the kind of place the President chose to send his child on her vacation, instead of somewhere civilized and safe like Miami. If they do, it will chafe them raw. They'll be livid. Because, once again -- with no concern for his fellow citizen, and to the great shame of the nation -- President Obama has demonstrated that he's a bit of a class act.