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August 13, 2009
Obama Vacations on
Martha’s Vineyard? You Know, Michigan Could Have Used the Boost
Things are lovely in New England this time of year. And nowhere lovelier
than on Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island where billionaire
bankers like to get away from the carping criticism of the enormous
bonuses they got for screwing up the global financial system.
All is well on Martha's Vineyard. The faux Englishness thrives in the
faux villages. During the day, happy children crowd the beaches and
parents shop for knick knacks and overpriced shops. In the evening, the
island's summer people party with the same people they partied with the
night before at a different house.
There are three East Coast destinations for the effete mega-money set:
Martha's Vineyard (known to the cognoscenti simply as “the Vineyard”);
its neighboring island of Nantucket (a bit smaller, but more of the same
culture of mansions in the sand); and the Hamptons on eastern Long
Now we learn that our president, Barack Obama, and his family have been
seduced by the joys of Martha's Vineyard. They are going to vacation
there on a 28-acre farm (it last changed hands for over $20 million)
where there is a place to shoot hoops, nearby golf and even a tee more
or less outside the kitchen door. It's been vetted for fun and passed
with flying colors. Bill Clinton vacationed there once when he was
But why, oh why, are the Obamas headed for the Vineyard? Sure there are
a surprising number of liberals – mostly banker and real estate types
from Manhattan – on the island, but what is the message?
Obama, one of the hardest-working presidents, deserves a swell holiday.
He deserves to shoot hoops, play golf and swim without having his swim
trunks analyzed in The New York Post. But where?
The thing is that it is important where the president and his family
grill their hot dogs. It is not trivial. Presidential vacations can be
transformative, putting obscure places on the map or giving a financial
boost where it is needed. It is unlikely that too many of the summer
people on Martha's Vineyard are about to be foreclosed on.
There is an historic dimension, or tail, to presidential recreation.
Abraham Lincoln used to ride across Washington to a cottage on the
grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, now a tourist attraction.
Fourteen miles up the Potomac River from the Chesapeake Bay, Piney
Point, Md., was the rustic retreat of Presidents James Monroe, Franklin
Pierce and Teddy Roosevelt. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put Warm Springs,
Ga., on the map by taking the waters there.
Before the two big Ts that dominate presidential life in our time –
television and terrorism – it was possible for presidents to travel more
or less incognito. Teddy Roosevelt was extremely mobile and once spent a
three-week presidential vacation hunting bear at Glenwood Springs,
Also, the physical White House was less demanding of the presidential
presence than it is today. The telegraph made it possible for presidents
to leave the country without worrying about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So
it was that Woodrow Wilson was able to attend the Paris peace talks
after World War I and present his 14-point program for world peace, and
FDR was able to meet with Winston Churchill around the world, from
Tehran to Yalta to Quebec.
But those were working trips. Presidential vacations are about getting
away from it all. You can do that nicely on the Vineyard, but would it
not have been nicer if Obama had chosen some equally alluring spot that
needed a presidential boost? Remember the White House entourage spends
money, and so do the press (spends less and less) and the security
apparatus. A presidential visit is good for business in most places but
of little account on the Vineyard.
There are many beautiful and deserving places where the presidential
cavalcade can leave a mark. For example, how about Michigan's Upper
Peninsula? It is a glorious vacation destination, and it has not really
had a boost since Esther Williams made those ridiculous swimming movies
on Mackinac Island in the 1940s.
More to the point, Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the
nation. Hoops and links are ubiquitous all across America, and there are
plenty of them in Michigan.
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