Reagan Wouldn’t Sweat Summer on Gulf Coast: Margaret Carlson
During her 15 minutes of unwanted fame, accused racist turned celebrated anti-racist Shirley Sherrod urged President Barack Obama to visit her corner of Georgia.
“I need to get him down here with some regular folks to see how they live and how they get along,” Sherrod told the Associated Press. “It might give him a better understanding on how to promote togetherness in this country.”
A lovely idea, Shirley, but get in line behind the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Seems Obama swung a golf club in a polo shirt, rather than a containment boom while dressed in a Hazmat suit, before BP’s deep-sea well was capped. To compensate for that lack of sympathy, and to boost tourism, the first family will spend part of their August vacation on the Gulf coast in Florida, a region likely to be as hot and humid as Washington, the very place the Obamas want to escape.
Malia and Sasha must be thrilled.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; a presidential vacation is never just a vacation. It has been made into a window on the chief executive’s soul, a declaration of presidential priorities.
Don’t take enough days off and you’re a grind, like Jimmy Carter. Take days at the wrong time, or go to the wrong place, and you’re an insensitive goof-off -- especially if something goes wrong and you’re caught on split-screen playing sports while an oil-slicked pelican poses for its close-up.
You’d think Americans would want their president to have some quality time with the family, recharging the ol’ batteries in some beautiful place. Instead, the Republican National Committee is tracing Obama’s every moment away from the Oval Office, as if he’s escaping house arrest.
Even a night off inside the White House is too much: Republicans activated Obama’s ankle bracelet for hosting a long- scheduled event honoring Paul McCartney, during which he joined in on “Hey Jude.”
Republicans who harp on where, when and how Obama takes his downtime are guilty of a remarkable case of reverse elitism. Deep down, even Republican bomb-throwers know the president is perpetually on high alert, surrounded by staff and pulled aside for briefings, no matter where he is.
What poor Obama lacks is the open-range ranch or waterfront compound that his predecessors owned and cannily rebranded for an accepting public.
Richard Nixon had his Winter White House in Key Biscayne, Florida. The press so much liked going to Ronald Reagan’s Western White House in Santa Barbara, California -- Billy Dale, the longtime director of the White House travel office, would arrange to have reporters’ California wines shipped back home -- that it seldom appears these days without the word “beloved” before it.
Reagan so disarmed the press, quipping how the outside of a horse was good for the inside of a man, that he got away with spending 355 days at his ranch.
A “working vacation” sells if the setup looks as if generations have unwound there. When President George H.W. Bush announced the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1991, he shifted seamlessly from a guy motoring in a cigarette boat to a president standing on land that had been in his family for 100 years.
Dry and Dusty
And few could lob credible complaints of elitism or luxury at President George W. Bush and his own Western White House, the ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he spent all or part of 490 days of his presidency. It was dry, dusty and devoid of history, the nearest diversions being the Dr Pepper Museum and the Branch Davidian compound property, both in Waco.
Last month, in his first crack at summer 2010, Obama brought his family to Maine, hiking in Acadia National Park and, no doubt, marveling at a state that produced two Republican senators who saved his financial-regulation bill. Sounds like work to me.
A Democrat without a vacation home -- and no, the Obama residence in Chicago doesn’t count -- is like a man without a country. He visits a New England beach at his peril.
Bill Clinton summered with the swells in Martha’s Vineyard until Dick Morris advised him to forsake the Kennedys and Cronkites for a saddle in Wyoming, so that the average Joe could identify with him. Clinton looked uncomfortable if not ridiculous and soon went back to Massachusetts.
After dragging his family to the Gulf, Obama will head to Martha’s Vineyard. The only thing that might quiet the Republican heckling might be a contrition tour:
From New England, proceed to southwestern Georgia to see the wrongly terminated Sherrod for a lesson in civil-rights history.
Head north in a fuel-efficient General Motors car to visit an unemployment line in Detroit.
In New York City, go to Wall Street, incognito, and declare your admiration for how the Obama administration has cleaned up our financial system. If the worst happens and you get beat up and require stitches, the visit to an emergency room will give you a front-row view of the early stages of Obamacare.
Finally, grace a newsroom, where a dying industry beset by huge layoffs would be ever so grateful if you promised to stop taking your message over our heads to shows like “The View.”
It’s August. There’s a lot of white space and dead air to fill. You can help.
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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