Santorum criticizes Obama for allowing Malia to attend class trip to Mexico

obama family photoThe is-Mexico-safe-or-isn’t-it debate spilled over into the 2012 presidential race on Tuesday as G.O.P. hopeful Rick Santorum criticized President Obama for allowing his 13-year-old daughter, Malia, to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, on a class trip.

“What I would say is that the president’s actions should reflect what his administration is saying,” Santorum said in an interview with conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck. “If the administration is saying that it’s not safe to have people down there, then just because you can send 25 Secret Service agents doesn’t mean you should do it. You should set an example. I think that’s what presidents do. They set an example. And when the government is saying this is not safe, then you don’t set the example by sending your kids down there.”

On Monday, Agence France-Presse reported that Malia was on a school trip in the popular colonial city known for its arts scene and vibrant zocalo, with a phalanx of twenty-five Secret Service agents to protect her. According to Politico, a number of media outlets took down their stories about the trip in order to honor a long-standing pledge to protect the privacy of President Obama’s children. The White House confirmed today that Malia and her classmates weren’t harmed in yesterday’s earthquake, which was “felt strongly” in Oaxaca according to an expert cited in a USA Today piece.

A few thoughts…

Mexico is a big country — there are 31 states and more than 100 million inhabitants. A few weeks ago, I challenged the notion that Puerto Vallarta (PV) is unsafe for American tourists and my piece generated nearly 100 comments, most with strong opinions one way or the other. American snowbirds that live in PV, or travel there each winter, believe it’s safe, but many others have been scared off by media reports of violence and think it’s not worth the risk.

According to the New York Times, Mexico welcomed a record total of more than 22 million international visitors in 2011, most from the U.S. So unlike Senator Santorum, it seems that most Americans are able to differentiate between the safe and unsafe parts of Mexico.

The State Department hasn’t advised Americans to avoid the entire country. The notion that the Obama’s are sending their daughter into an area that the government has warned against visiting is factually incorrect. There is no advisory in effect for the state of Oaxaca. I’ve been to Oaxaca before and it’s one of the most vibrant, artsy towns in the country. There have been demonstrations there in years past and an American citizen was killed in one incident in 2006, but it’s generally a safe place, even by U.S. standards.
%Gallery-151129%Is there something inherently unpatriotic about traveling abroad? Several readers who commented on my PV post opined that they were avoiding Mexico and other foreign countries because our economy needed us to stay home and spend our money here.

I can see that point but I think that Americans need to leave the country every now and then. It helps us to appreciate what we have here, it allows us to better understand how others perceive us and it gives us ideas that we can replicate or avoid here. Besides, if you’re really concerned about supporting U.S. businesses, you can travel on an American carrier and stay at a U.S. owned hotel chain.

In my day, we took field trips to the zoo — if we were lucky. Kids are really spoiled these days. I have nieces and nephews who go to Europe for class trips. We used to go to amusement parks and zoos. For the record, I think it’s terrific that Malia Obama has a chance to travel to Oaxaca, a city that I like very much. I’m just a little jealous.

Vacation at your own risk. This is a class trip for a 13-year-old girl but politics and presidential family trips can be tricky. The recent PBS documentary on Bill Clinton noted that the family changed their vacation plans from Martha’s Vineyard to Wyoming because it was perceived as more Middle America. The administration even arranged a photo shoot of Bill riding a horse.

The Obamas like to vacation in Hawaii, where the President was born and spent much of his childhood. But don’t be surprised if his summer vacation this year involves a swing state or two. Some early guesses: Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks or Rocky Mountain National Park.

Photo via the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia via Flickr. Photos of Oaxaca by Dave Seminara.