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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A ‘Trifecta’ of Nonsense

The latest anti-Obama rant to show up in e-mail inboxes accuses President Obama of an “unholy” and “anti-American” series of omissions, which it claims no other president has committed. But the fact is, Obama was just doing the same thing that Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had done in similar circumstances.

It’s a brief e-mail that first showed up in our inbox Jan. 5:

Subject: Obama Trifecta

President Obama just completed the UNHOLY and ANTI-AMERICAN TRIFECTA:

1st president in 110 years to miss the annual Army-Navy Football Game.

1st president to not attend any Christmas religious observance.

1st president to stay on vacation after a terrorist attack.

The first claim could hardly be more wrong. While it’s true that Obama did not attend the Army-Navy game held Dec. 12 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, he was by no means the first president to miss the game. For example, Lyndon B. Johnson didn’t attend a single one during his entire presidency. Neither did George H.W. Bush. Jimmy Carter didn’t attend any, even though he was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. And neither did Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had actually played in the 1912 game as a cadet, when he started at halfback for West Point. (Eisenhower did attend the 1957 “lightweight” game between Army and Navy 150-pound teams, but not “the” Army-Navy football match itself.)

Presidents have attended the game a number of times, and it’s even been called “The President’s Game” by presidential scholar Brian Flanagan, who has written a useful history on the subject. But the fact is, presidents have been absent from the game far more often than they have attended. President George W. Bush attended in 2001, 2004 and 2008, but not in the other five years of his presidency, according to a list of presidential appearances at Army-Navy football games compiled by James W. Cheevers, associate director and senior curator of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. Cheevers’ list also notes that when Bill Clinton attended in 1996, he was the first president in 22 years to do so, and that when Harry Truman attended in 1945, he was the first sitting president to go since Calvin Coolidge in 1926.

Also false is the claim that Obama is the first president not to attend any Christmas religious observance. To be sure, Time magazine reported that the president wasn’t scheduled to attend any Christmas Eve services, and the Christan Post reported that he, in fact, did not attend any. (When we asked the White House about this, our queries went unanswered.) But Obama wouldn’t be the first. Ronald Reagan never attended church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day during his entire eight years in office, for example. That’s reflected in his own diaries and daily schedules, available online through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. In his Christmas Eve diary entry for 1982, Reagan records going to the home of personal friend Charles Z. Wick for dinner, which he says “has become tradition with our families.” Reagan’s daily schedule reflects that dinner but no church service. Dinner with the Wick family was the Christmas Eve routine throughout Reagan’s presidency. We checked entries for each Dec. 24 and 25, and there’s no mention of any religious observance.

And finally, it’s untrue that Obama is the first president to “stay on vacation after a terrorist attack” — (technically, a botched attack). The fact is, President Bush was at Camp David when the “shoe bomb” plot broke around mid-day on Dec. 22, 2001. The Associated Press reported that American Airlines flight 63 arrived at Logan Airport in Boston at 12:50 that afternoon, escorted by two fighter jets. That was a Saturday. That morning Bush had welcomed the arrival of the Olympic torch relay at the South Lawn of the White House a little after 8:30 a.m., but soon after he was off to Camp David for a Christmas Eve holiday with his family, as reported by CNN and numerous other news agencies at the time. He later flew to Texas, where he remained at his ranch in Crawford. His first public mention of the shoe bomber came during a news conference held at the ranch on Dec. 28 — six days after the incident. He said:

Bush, Dec. 28, 2001: [O]ur country still remains on alert, and we’re actively looking for anybody who would harm America.

The shoe bomber was a case in point, where the country has been on alert. A stewardess on an American Airlines flight — or a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight was vigilant, saw something amiss, and responded. It’s an indication that the culture of America has shifted to one of alertness. And I’m grateful for the flight attendant’s response, as I’m sure the passengers on that airplane. But we’ve got to be aware that there are still enemies to the country. And our government is responding accordingly.

Bush did not return to the White House until Jan. 7, 2002 — more than two weeks after the attempted shoe bombing.