At Large : We know we're good for them
You may remember that back in mid-summer 2002, we were all just sitting on the back porches of our lavish Martha's Vineyard estates, stunned and hurt by the mocking words of then President George W. Bush.
We didn't know, in that wounded moment, that we were merely between presidents and that our self esteem, temporarily deflated but normally buoyant, would soon bob again.
I hesitate to remind you of what had caused that spiritual recession. The president had slurred us in an interview with Scott Lindlaw of The Associated Press, conducted at the Bush family ranch in Crawford, Texas.
"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.
We'd had the Clintons, although occasionally poll-driven, they had laid on some Rocky Mountain vacationing to cool the critics who objected to the First Couple of the people sporting about in the highfalutin' Martha's Vineyard playground of the rich crowd.
Had we known 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 acres of former grass around our house, I thought, well, it might as well be Waco, or Crawford, or Lubbock.
Today, the end of July 2010, the grass, mirroring the global economy, has browned off, the flowers are drooping, Diesel the Mastiff is half under the porch stairs in a hole he's dug amongst the gasping perennials. Teddy the Pug, his tongue curling and waving at its most radical extension, lies among the wilted lilies, his hind legs trailing behind him, in an effort to press his belly into the parched but slightly cooler earth. An inexpressibly indolent cat has draped herself over the bird feeder that hangs from a drooping oak. If a bird flies into her mouth, she'll eat it.
It's nearly August on Martha's Vineyard, holiday hotspot for the rich, famous, and political (as in Democrat). No rain in sight, The Fair is a couple of weeks away. We beautiful people need a drink. In that sense, the former president had it right.
I say, Hon, toss that empty into the former forsythia and open another gallon of Chablis. The request didn't originate with me. It's an Island lyric.
The wife and me, we're getting a buzz on and thinking about economic policy. Which is what we elite inhabitants of the Vineyard do. We are importantly concerned with national affairs.
Forgetting that by far the majority of presidents and their advisers have turned elsewhere for their recreation, and for helpful advice, we are participating in a well documented Vineyard tradition. Accepting, unsurprised, that those presidents and advisors to presidents who have spent time with us have apparently been knocking back a few — I'm thinking margaritas rather than Chablis these days — and even a few more. We, in these exalted premises, know that they visit because 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. But, we're there to indulge the visitors 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 at the top of the Gay Head Light, we might recommend to the most powerful man or woman on earth a public option or higher taxes 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, while he had to run the anti-war gantlet just to get to the gates of his ranch.
He may have had in mind former Democrat President Lyndon Johnson, as Elizabeth Bumiller suggested at the time, "Both presidents," Ms. Bumiller wrote, "also resented the East Coast elites and used their ranches to set themselves apart."
And above, I suppose they thought. How futile.
"Similarly," Ms. Bumiller added, "when Johnson was trying to find his top advisers one summer in the mid-1960s and learned with great irritation that they were all on Martha's Vineyard, he referred to it not by name but as some 'female island.'"
A little snarky, you say, and I agree, but it's not all smooth sailing for presidents, and they forget that even denizens of this popular resort of 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 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. I'm recharging right now, as a matter of fact. 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 in the Gulf, or a dude ranch trail ride in Colorado, or a lobster in Maine. We know that they know that we and they are, how shall I say it, well, simpatico.