Low-Key Vacation for the Obamas on Martha’s Vineyard

August 23, 2010 - 5:44 AM
Since arriving on Martha's Vineyard last Thursday, President Barack Obama and his family have stayed close to the 30-acre farm they're renting.
obama vacation

President Barack Obama, accompanied by his daughters Malia and Sasha, waves as he leaves the Bunch of Grapes book store in Vineyard Haven, Mass., on Friday, Aug. 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Chilmark, Mass. (AP) - It says something when the most exciting moment of a presidential vacation is a trip to the bookstore.
 
Since arriving on Martha's Vineyard last Thursday, President Barack Obama has been in hard-core "no drama" form. He and his family have eschewed the island's ritzy restaurants and its swirling social scene, instead mostly staying close to home at the 30-acre farm they're renting.
 
Obama has appeared just once in public so far. On Friday a visit to the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven with daughters Sasha and Malia drew a crowd -- and generated plenty of positive press. First lady Michelle Obama and the two girls went out separately for ice cream.
 
Other than that, Obama has ventured out only to golf -- twice -- and a picnic with his family on a private beach. The first couple has stayed in every night.
 
Though there's still plenty of time for a date night or other activities before the president leaves Aug. 29, Obama appears determined to avoid being conspicuous. And that might be politically prudent, given the lumbering economy and Republican criticism of his vacation, which comes even though George W. Bush had vacationed more at this point in his presidency than Obama has.
Obama golfs

President Barack Obama at the Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown, Mass., on Friday, Aug. 20, 2010. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina is with the president. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The White House is also sensitive to criticism that Mrs. Obama took for her recent trip to Spain, which was seen by some as overly lavish at a time when so many Americans are out of work and unable to find jobs.
 
But aides say there's no change in the president's vacationing style -- it's just the way he rolls on the Vineyard.
 
"Martha's Vineyard is a pretty low-key place. This time on the island will look a lot like last year's: time at the beach, on the golf course, out for dinner and ice cream," said Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton.
 
Still, this trip seems to be starting off on a lower key than last year's, when the president and first lady dined out on their third night in town. But it's a difficult comparison to make because outside events, especially the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., intervened last year. Plus, it was Obama's first vacation here as president.
 
Local papers have run stories on the lower level of buzz surrounding this year's visit, but there's still plenty of excitement on display. Signs welcoming Obama dot the island, including this good-natured warning from one local household: "Welcome Obama. Watch out for ticks."
 
Cafes and shops have named ice cream and drinks after the president. Patrons at Mocha Mott's coffee shop can enjoy a "Mocha/Bama" -- mocha with milk and white chocolate.
 
But Vineyard residents have taken note of the president's low-key style. It stands in particular contrast to that of former President Bill Clinton, who was a fixture of the island's political and literary social scene in six summers here during his presidency.
 
Clinton went sailing with celebrities, hosted a Democratic fundraiser where Carole King sang, and threw a party for friends and reporters where he accompanied Carly Simon on saxophone.
 
The Obamas, by contrast, passed up a fundraiser Saturday night on the Vineyard for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, even though it was hosted by their good friend Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser.
 
"I feel like Obama almost lays lower than Clinton. Clinton was always out and about, chilling at the Black Dog. Obama's more subtle," said Sal Esposito-McNamara, 17, whose father managed the local landmark Black Dog Tavern that Clinton frequented.
 
At least a few residents are grousing that the president should be out more visiting businesses and boosting the economy, especially since his presence inconveniences other visitors anyway when his motorcade blocks the Vineyard's sometimes traffic-choked roads.
 
"I think it's really bothersome to a lot of people," said Wendy Maseda, 40, of the Vineyard town of Oak Bluffs. "I definitely felt Clinton was more of a people person. It's a huge difference. ... Clinton really helped businesses here."
 
That's not to say Obama has been isolated. As usual, a few close friends are with him or nearby, including Jarrett, who rents a home on the island, and Chicago buddy Eric Whitaker.
 
And the pressures of the presidency are never far away. Obama is getting regular economic and security briefings from aides and keeping up to date with memos from staff. And if, like last year, something unexpected happens -- from a hurricane to a security scare -- Obama's tranquil vacation could be turned upside down in a hurry.
 
"Whenever you talk about a presidential vacation you ought to put the word vacation in quotes because you can bet that there will still be work that he's doing every day," said Burton.
 
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Associated Press reporters Mark S. Smith and Glen Johnson contributed to this report from Vineyard Haven, Mass.