Going on Vacation While at War Is Not a Good Look

Newsweek published this story under the headline of “Ford’s Unquiet Oasis” on April 14, 1975. In light of recent events involving President Donald Trump and his 17-day working vacation at his golf club, Newsweek is republishing the story.

Some of the president’s men had advised Gerald Ford to stay home this year. A spring vacation in affluent Palm Springs, California, they warned, would sit badly with a country in the grip of hard times. But Ford, who had spent eight previous Easters at the sparkling oasis, retorted that he had worked hard and deserved a break, and so he headed west. He was still airborne when word came that Da Nang had fallen to the Communists, and he was on the links almost every day of South Vietnam’s swift and bloody collapse. What was to have been a working golfing vacation for Ford turned rapidly into a public-relations embarrassment.

In better times, Ford’s week in Palm Springs would have raised few eyebrows; the last four presidents have all vacationed there. But viewed against a background of domestic recession and foreign war, the luxurious spa worried the president’s aides, Ford stayed, in a posh neighborhood called Thunderbird Heights, a development that adjoins a country club, is patrolled by private police and lists its residents by name beneath the street signs. Neighbors include industrialist Leonard K. Firestone, entertainers Alice Faye, Phil Harris, Hoagy Carmichael and Ginger Rogers.

Jerry and Betty Ford rented the $355,000 ranch home of insurance millionaire Fred C. Wilson for nine days, paying $100 a day out of their own pocket. Offering panoramic views of the craggy Santa Rosa Mountains and the Coachella Valley, the house is built around an enormous, glass-walled living room with a 20-foot bar and fireplaces at each end. A parqueted game room leads to a 50-foot, turquoise-tiled, S-shaped swimming pool where the president swam twice a day; at one of the curves is a double-jet fountain, inlaid with mosaics and adorned by a bronze nude. A lighted tennis court with an automatic serving machine and a five-hole putting green with sand trap offered other diversions.


Ford’s staff lived almost as comfortably. White House chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Richard Cheney, rented the nearby home of retired industrialist John Mulcahy for $100 a day; topsider Robert Hartmann paid the same rent for Ginger Rogers’s home down the street. Lesser aides were put in another house for $450 a week,…

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