From News Hounds, Chapter 18

When the president, Mrs. Obama and family arrive to vacation, along with an unnumbered retinue of aides and protectors, plus hardware, software, and beachwear, Islanders believe they’re coming because we offer easy going respite and unusually free-spirited, friendly, and carefree recharge. It’s what we do. We think it’s a feather in our caps. Typical of that reaction, Diesel always thought the president came back each summer to get another look at him. He thought there had been a connection. But, I pay no attention to the pridefulness of one self-involved English mastiff, and you shouldn’t either.

Naturally, presidents have no sure claim on carefree. That’s hardly our problem, of course, but we do what we can. We try to be helpful in our way to visitors of all sorts, including presidents, and sometimes despite our best efforts, we suffer some nasty swipes. In mid-summer 2002, to hear him tell it, President George W. Bush believed we were all just sitting on the back porches of our lavish Martha’s Vineyard estates drinking white wine. Stunned and hurt by the mocking, we didn’t know that we were merely between presidential visits — after Clinton, before Obama — and that our self-esteem, temporarily deflated but normally buoyant, would soon bob proudly again.

The between presidents let down was steep mainly because Clinton had been so convivial. He and Mrs. Clinton even invited us to parties during each August visit. At a cocktail party at the Spring Point, Chilmark house of a supporter, Mrs. Clinton told me that she read The Martha’s Vineyard Times every day, which was friendly, but obviously untrue. The president played the sax for us on a hillside overlooking Vineyard Sound. I have photos of that musical interlude and of the guests, including Moll and Emily, in thrall, admiring his showmanship. Another time, wearing a curly blond wig, the president joined the band on the Hot Tin Roof stage, at a party hosted by the nightclub’s owners, James and Carly Simon, before they split. That was a presidency Islanders could get behind …

Forgetting that by far the majority of presidents and their advisers have turned elsewhere for their recreation and for helpful advice, we Islanders are participating in a well documented Vineyard tradition. We, in these exalted premises, know that the ones who visit do so because, forget the beaches, 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. We’re here for them, to indulge them and to offer advice as needed. If we’re thrown together at Nancy’s Snack Bar in Oak Bluffs or at the Galley in Menemsha, if we happen to bump into one another while walking Diesel along the bike path in the State Forest, we might recommend to the most powerful man or woman on earth more quantitative easing or draining Warren Buffett’s savings account or making businesses stuffed with cash expand, whether the demand demands it or not. Those are issues that bedevil and even defeat presidents, but not us.

Remember General Motors in the pit of the Great Recession? Steve Rattner, a West Tisbury summer resident and vacation slash fundraising pal of President Obama, got the Car Czar assignment. He got the appointment, I suspect, because of his experience in the 1970s reviving the fortunes of the Vineyard Gazette, which needed to replace its 19th Century-vintage, clattering, cast iron flatbed press with a new, pricy offset model, the one it uses today. The dollars involved inspired resistance in James Reston, the New York Times columnist and a Scot, also a summer resident, who had bought the newspaper from its longtime owners. It happened that I was the managing editor of the newspaper, and Steve, just out of Brown University, was Reston’s Washington intern. There was a lot of negotiating, hand holding, cajoling and inspiring to be done in Washington and a lot of planning, organizing, urging, and more than a wee bit of the creature to be done in Edgartown. Steve didn’t know then that he was preparing for the GM job that fell to him nearly half a century later. But, that’s what the Vineyard does for the movers and shakers who turn to us for succor and advice. 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?

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