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 nick-knacks in 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 cognescenti 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 Island.
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 less outside the kitchen door. It’s been vetted for fun and passed with flying colors. Bill Clinton vacationed there once when he was president.
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 analysed 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. 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, Colo.
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, Plenty of them in Michigan. –For North Star Writers Group
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