Why Can't Obama Have a Vacation?

All presidents take time off to regroup, and this "elite" location has deep roots in African-American history.

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The first family's visits always cause headaches for islanders, tourists and other visitors. Streets are blocked, and patrons at restaurants and other businesses are sometimes locked inside or temporarily barred by Secret Service agents protecting the Obamas. One street, East Chop, where White House Senior Adviser and Assistant Valerie Jarrett has a house, was blocked last year for about half an hour when the Obamas arrived for an outing, holding up guests attending other events in the tony neighborhood. But most people here, including those on East Chop, accept the slight inconveniences with glee.     

Blacks on Martha's Vineyard are not new. Jill Nelson, the writer and journalist, calls it home and explains the black presence in her fine history, Finding Martha's Vineyard: African Americans at Home on an Island. She notes that "it is not a racial utopia, but it was and is better than most places." The book flap says the island "has provided respite and rejuvenation, community and contemplation for generations of African Americans." The Vineyard was settled by slaves and their descendants, who first came with their white employers and "established a haven and a community" for "black middle-class families who came each summer to escape the heat, hostility and racial tension of their hometowns; and generations of African-American professionals -- doctors, presidential advisors, writers, academics, and artists."

While Nelson and her family are longtime residents, the same groups of professionals continue to flock to the island for the reasons she chronicles. Rich? Some are, but most are not. Elite? That's a matter of opinion. I'm sure that some consider themselves elite; most would disagree. It seems to be what it always was: a place that welcomed us, where we felt comfortable when most vacation spots in America barred nonwhites from their premises. 

Meanwhile, Walsh and others pointed out that past presidents were also criticized about their vacation choices and places to chill. Dwight Eisenhower spent way too much time at his Gettysburg, Penn., farm -- 365 days over six years -- leading Democrats to call him a "part-time president." Some were knocked for their stays at their preferred haunts: Richard Nixon for running off to Key Biscayne, Fla., and San Clemente, Calif.; George H.W. Bush to Kennebunkport, Maine; George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan to their ranches in Crawford, Texas, and Santa Barbara, Calif., respectively.

Bill Clinton, like Obama, chose Martha's Vineyard, but Chris Matthews noted that he was usually "seen with a big cigar, hanging out with Vernon Jordan." Clinton was also forced to cancel a trip to the Vineyard in 1995 because of poor economic conditions during his re-election campaign -- sound familiar? He instead went to Grand Teton National Park but never returned (hey, he's a Vineyard guy). Reagan, too, canceled a vacation in 1983 after the Russians shot down a Korean Air Lines passenger jet. 

I have not seen any polls that show Americans are necessarily displeased with the Vineyard vacation. I think that most have more serious gripes with Obama at this point. They show that displeasure in his falling overall popularity; they are increasingly disgusted with his handling of foreign affairs. California Democrat Maxine Waters signaled that the Congressional Black Caucus is frustrated with Obama's failure to address severe problems among its constituents, as are growing numbers of other Americans.

Jonathan Capehart, a Washington Post editorial writer, said people are "angry and anxious," and he's absolutely correct. But they are not yet ready to deny the president quiet time at his venue of choice. 

Paul Delaney regularly vacations on Martha's Vineyard.

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