Obama beat


A weekly gleaning of news reports about President Obama’s vacation: Where he will stay, what he will do, and references to the Island (described as tony and chic, didn’t you know?) and Islanders that may surprise some.

President Barack Obama and his family will arrive on Martha’s Vineyard next Thursday for a ten-day vacation. The contrast with press coverage on the eve of the 2009 trip to the Vineyard is stark.

Last summer press descriptions of the Vineyard were as gushing as a soft-serve spigot at the Edgartown Dairy Queen.

Under the heading, “Room for Debate, a running commentary on the news,” on April 13, 2009 the New York Times asked seven people to answer the burning question: Why Democrats love Martha’s Vineyard? The group included lawyers and Harvard professors Alan Dershowitz and Charles Ogletree Jr., and Vineyard Gazette editor Julia Wells of West Tisbury, who led the navel-gazing pack in the word count.

There has been little analysis of the Vineyard’s charms this time around beyond characterizations of the Island as an elite vacation spot.

On August 4, columnist Susan Estrich provided political analysis of the upcoming Vineyard vacation on the Chicago-based political web site RealClearPolitics.com.

Under the headline, “Does He Get It?” she said that the president’s forthcoming vacation to Martha’s Vineyard is “one of those terrible decisions that has even his strongest supporters shaking their heads.”

Ms. Estrich posed a question: “Why is he going to Martha’s Vineyard?”

Her answer will come as no surprise to any Island visitor: “Because he likes it. Because he knows people there, has friends there, enjoys himself there.”

But most visitors to Martha’s Vineyard do not have to weigh the political dimensions of their vacation destination choice. A point Ms. Estrich highlights.

“I’m from Massachusetts. I was in my 30s the first time I ever set foot in Martha’s Vineyard. Elite. Fancy. Expensive. Hard to get to. The Estrich family from Lynn considered Nantasket Beach exotic. Martha’s Vineyard might as well have been an island off of Spain.

“I don’t begrudge the president a nice vacation. But having already spent time in Maine this summer, a second vacation to a place other than the hard-hit Gulf is an invitation for people to think what too many of them already think: The president just doesn’t get it.”

Last summer, President Obama and family arrived on Martha’s Vineyard fresh from a mini-vacation to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon. Noting the First Family’s western swing, Los Angeles Times reporter Peter Nicholas wrote, “No president can afford to look elitist amid an economic downturn, which makes the business of choosing a vacation spot a delicate one.”

Fox News picked up on the vacation fallout in a story posted August 9 by April Girouard, “First Lady Returns Home from Vacation to Firestorm of Criticism.

“First Lady Michelle Obama returned from a lavish Mediterranean vacation Sunday with daughter Sasha — and was welcomed back with a firestorm of criticism,” Ms. Girouard wrote.

The piece provided various statements that underscored the private nature of the trip. “I think it’s wrong to talk about the first lady’s family vacation as a politician. She’s a mom,” Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show.

But the critics were heard from. “The trip drew comparisons to the monarchies of old Europe — not to the average American woman that is part of Mrs. Obama’s established public persona,” Ms. Girouard reported.

As for Martha’s Vineyard, we who live and work here are the chosen few. Ms. Girouard reported, “The family’s rumored plans for a late August vacation in elite Martha’s Vineyard has also been questioned. Under fire, the White House announced that the Obamas would be visiting Florida for a mini-vacation in August ahead of the expected Martha’s Vineyard 10-day reprieve.”

The report concluded with an assessment of the First Lady’s popularity and whether her choice of vacation destinations would help at the polls.

“The fact is, Michelle Obama remains enormously popular,” Democratic strategist Bernard Whitman told Fox News, citing a July Gallup poll that measured the first lady’s favorable rating at a healthy 66 percent. “Do I wish she had taken a vacation on the Gulf Coast rather than Spain? Sure.”

Vacations, votes, and comparisons with monarchies past were also the focus of a column in the conservative Nation Review online titled “Raising the bar on the Costa de Sol” posted August 9.

The Corner Columnist Victor Davis Hanson wrote, “The problem with Michelle Obama’s Marabella-to-Martha’s-Vineyard August is not that the first family doesn’t deserve time off but that Michelle, in the past, has gone on the record that the country’s elite (of which she claimed not to be a part) had created one nation for themselves and quite a different for most others … So the Versailles-like aura around her trips suggests that her prior angst arose not because millions were not able to share the lifestyles of the elite but that she herself had not yet quite partaken in the sort of life she felt she deserved — which she is now apparently enjoying to the fullest.”

Mr. Hanson also suggested the Obamas have benefited from favorable news coverage. “Of course, all this puts a terrible burden on a sycophantic media with a long tradition of trashing the slightest hint of aristocratic enjoyment on the part of first ladies (e.g., Nancy Reagan’s china). So, just as golf, around winter 2009, ceased to be an aristocratic distraction from the nation’s pressing problems, so too luxury on the Mediterranean must be a sort of federal employee’s deserved state vacation.”