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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Obama orders food at Nancy's in Oak Bluffs. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Who can blame anyone for wanting to get away from the stormy, humid clime that is the norm in the nation's capital in August and repair to the quiet beaches, charming towns, delicious seafood and intimate parties that are mainstays of this island outpost off the Massachusetts coast?

Well, anyone except for Barack Obama. The president's in the house on Martha's Vineyard, and a question -- should he be? -- reverberates across the land, especially in Washington, D.C. Washington Post columnists Eugene Robinson and Colbert King, along with a host of pundits, pols and Republicans, say with certitude that the president should not, during these times of wild swings in the stock market, creeping inflation, high unemployment, mounting problems in the eurozone and the twists and turns in foreign events, spend even a day resting and relaxing in the comforts of a ritzy resort.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC has been on the president's case since long before the Obamas flew here Thursday. One of his guests, Ken Walsh of U.S. News & World Report, said he usually feels "everybody needs a break ... but this year, Martha's Vineyard is not the place to go ... hanging out with the elites." Predictably, right-wingers and Fox News hosts, along with Rush Limbaugh, have been beside themselves. Let's ignore Republican "presidential candidates" Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. Mitt Romney criticized the president's choice while, ironically, he, Romney, will be in Edgartown, Mass., for a fundraiser. Edgartown is on Martha's Vineyard. How ridiculous can they get?

Many I talked to here on the Vineyard and back in Washington have mixed views, some agreeing with those who say Obama should have settled for his home in Chicago's Hyde Park -- as close to an elite suburb to be found anywhere (though it's really not Martha's Vineyard) -- or the quietude of Camp David in the Maryland mountains northwest of the capital, where he does spend some weekends, as have many other past chief executives.

Others feel the criticism is mainly politically motivated, rejecting the cost argument that taxpayers pick up the tab for security, staff, etc., which they would pick up no matter where in the world the president kicked up his heels, for work or pleasure. The Obamas have always paid for their vacations.

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My own view is, let him and his family have fun wherever and whenever he can. The man is taking a beating daily, in the polls and from constant bombardment from the GOP campaigns. Look at his hair, how it seems more difficult for his barbers to conceal the gray. I get the feeling that some days he says, "Forget it. Let the gray show!" And I loved his answer to those who urged him to call senators and members of Congress back in session; I felt that it would be the worst thing for those who have been causing him and the country so much torment to return to town now, and he seemed to concur.

The president's choice of Martha's Vineyard is nothing new. He vacationed here before he was elected, and he has returned annually since. The family takes up residence for 10 days at the Blue Herron Farm, which rents for $50,000 a week.

He plays golf, and the family dines at local restaurants on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs and along its waterfront. His daughters, Sasha and Malia, have stopped in at video and game shops, usually causing excitement among the young patrons. This year, young people have flocked to the arcade on Circuit, cameras in hand, hoping the Obama girls will make an appearance.

Last year my friends and I went to a restaurant the Obamas had just departed, and a tourist refused to give up the seat that the president had occupied.

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