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Obama's vacation: Time with the family ... and the nuclear codes

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High-tech, secure videoconferencing equipment also follows Mr. Obama and other presidents wherever they go. Obama will be renting his Bar Harbor vacation home this weekend, but historically, the White House and the Secret Service have had wide scope to “improve” presidential second homes. The program initially focused on enhancing security, but now permanent presidential retreats, such as George W. Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch, are wired with communications gear.

Some presidents have gone overboard with the renovations – famously, Mr. Nixon’s Florida residence received millions of dollars in upgrades, including the addition of a floating helipad.

If all the efforts to make the presidency portable still aren’t enough, Air Force One is always on standby to whisk the president away if needed. Two months ago, Obama took a day out of his Memorial Day weekend in Chicago to fly south and examine firsthand the handling of the Gulf oil spill.

Mr. Dallek recalls that when President Dwight Eisenhower showed John Kennedy around the White House after the 1960 election, Eisenhower showed the president-elect a special button that would call a helicopter to the South Lawn within seconds. That kind of rapid response follows the president everywhere, and it has only gotten better over time.

“That was 50 years ago,” Dallek says. “Now, it’s pretty instantaneous.”

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