Retreat, refuge – Martha’s Vineyard reporting for duty


The president, Mrs. Obama and family arrive today to vacation, along with an unnumbered retinue of aides and protectors, and hardware, software, and beachwear. They’re coming because here, we offer easygoing respite and unusually free-spirited, friendly, and carefree recharge. It’s what we do.

Naturally, presidents — and especially this one, right now — have no sure claim on carefree. That’s hardly our problem, of course. We do what we can.

We try to be helpful in our way to visitors of all sorts, including presidents, and sometimes despite our best efforts, we suffer some nasty swipes. In mid-summer 2002, to hear him tell it, President George W. Bush believed we were all just sitting on the back porches of our lavish Martha’s Vineyard estates. Stunned and hurt by the mocking, we didn’t know that we were merely between presidents — after Clinton, before Obama — and that our self-esteem, temporarily deflated but normally buoyant, would soon bob again.

President Bush slurred us in an Associated Press interview at the Bush family ranch in Crawford, Texas. The then-president had obviously let the steamy heat go to his head.

“Most Americans don’t sit in Martha’s Vineyard, swilling white wine,” the then-leader of the free world said about how the nation and he would vacation that summer. President Bush was a practiced vacationer, we’ve learned, so he knew what most Americans did and didn’t do.

Had we known then that, post-Clintons, we had the Obamas to look forward to, President Bush’s words might not have stung the way they did. But, at the time, studying the parched, tick-infested acres of former grass around our house, I thought he was stretching a point to talk that way.

But, at mid-August 2011, on Martha’s Vineyard, holiday hotspot for the rich, famous, and political (as in Democrat), the best thing about the year so far may be this weekend’s Fair. Apparently, the Obamas feel the same way. Maybe they need The Fair more than the rest of us do. We beautiful people need The Fair, and we need a drink, but something stiffer than white wine.

I say, Hon, toss that empty into the former forsythia and open a gallon of Jack. (The request didn’t originate with me. It’s an Island lyric.) We’re getting a buzz on and thinking about economic policy. Which is what we elite inhabitants of the Vineyard do. We are busy and important and concerned with national and global affairs, although it takes a stiff drink to stare this current global chaos in the face.

Forgetting that by far the majority of presidents and their advisers have turned elsewhere for their recreation, and for helpful advice, we Islanders are participating in a well documented Vineyard tradition. We, in these exalted premises, know that the ones who visit do so because, forget the beaches, they admire us and the wisdom we impart.

Plus, they can unbutton the top button, dispense with the hairdresser for two weeks, eat ice cream, fries, and fried fish of every variety, and we won’t criticize, though we know it’s wrong. We’re here for them, to indulge them and to offer advice as needed. If we’re thrown together at Nancy’s or at the Galley, if we happen to bump into one another while walking Diesel the mastiff along the bike path in the State Forest, we might recommend to the most powerful man or woman on earth a QE3 or higher taxes on Warren Buffett or making businesses stuffed with cash expand, whether the demand demands it or not. Those are issues that bedevil presidents, but not us.

And, if it happens that the high as well as the low cannot be us, or with us, then we do not wonder where they sit and what they swill? We wonder if they know what they’re missing?

Maybe President Bush vacationed in Crawford because he didn’t think he’d get the advice he wanted in West Tisbury. Very shrewd of him, I suspect. And, he may have been irritated at how Islanders welcomed former President Clinton, but certainly wouldn’t have put on the dog for him.

It’s not all smooth sailing for presidents, and they forget that even denizens of this popular spa for the rich and famous have problems too. My times have had their ups and downs, but I don’t go ragging on presidents about their tastes in cooling summer drinks. We may not be beer drinkers, we may prefer chilled white wines of better vintages, we may have been driven from wine to whiskey, shocked by President Obama’s beer summit (although perhaps that was an aberration) but, despite it all, we elites accept our burdens and carry on. We recharge too. Hon, top me off, will you?

We show folks a good time — a better time, naturally, if they’re our crowd. We leave important visitors alone, that is unless they need us. We expect them to come back, but we indulge them if the polls require a touch and go to Hawaii or Chicago. (One caution: We will draw the line, president or no president, at big black tour buses like the one President Obama rode recently through upper Midwest cornfields.) We know that presidents know that we and they are, how shall I say it, well, simpatico.