Political Correctness Leaves No Room On Clinton's Vacation

August 26, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Staff Writer

MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Mass. -- See the president play golf at the Farm Neck Country Club without begging for tee times like other non-members. See him sip drinks with Jackie O aboard a luxury yacht. See him motorcade all over the island to catered dinner parties thrown in his honor by various millionaires.

So who does Bill Clinton think he is? A rock star? A movie actor? A Republican?

"He's not riding a bus anymore like he did in the campaign, is he? He's riding yachts," noted Michele Davis, who was the deputy political director in the Reagan White House. "Last year, he pretended he was Ralph Cramden. This year, he's become the '90s version of Ivan Boesky, by virtue of how he spends his free time."

"Give me a break," responded one exasperated senior Clinton administration aide. "Look at where previous presidents have gone. . . . Presidents don't generally vacation at KOA campgrounds in Blythe" in the California desert.

But Ms. Davis is not the only one wondering about the contrast between 1992's version of Bill Clinton and the 1993 version. In some of the farm communities, inner cities and depressed California suburbs where Mr. Clinton went hunting for votes last year, struggling families who thought Mr. Bush was out of touch could be forgiven for wondering just what kind of example Mr. Clinton is setting when he goes to Vail, Colo., and plays golf with former President Gerald R. Ford and golf great Jack Nicklaus.

The truth, though, is probably somewhere in the middle.

For one thing, the first leg of the Clinton family vacation was a water-skiing stint in the Ozark Mountains of his native Arkansas -- not exactly the kind of vacation featured in Travel & Leisure magazine.

And yesterday, the president and his daughter put on western duds -- the president wore blue jeans and a straw cowboy hat -- and went on a trail ride. The president rode a 28-year-old nag named Jack. Mr. Clinton seemed every bit a man of the people as he gazed from his horse, looking at lead Secret Service agent David Carpenter, who appeared as though he'd never been on a horse before, and quipped, "Nice saddle, Dave."

Sometimes the activities of the first family are hard to label. Yesterday, for example, Mrs. Clinton went for a hike. But her hiking companion was William Styron, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and a member of the Vineyard elite.

Despite the images being broadcast back to the mainland of the president and his wife and daughter basking in the lap of luxury, Martha's Vineyard turns out to be a fascinating and eclectic place that includes many middle-class vacationers from the Boston area.

Granted, rents aren't cheap here, and neither are restaurant prices, but a closer examination reveals that the island is much more than the elite playground of the rich some have made it out to be.

Oak Bluff, one of the island's year-around towns, was built around a still-thriving Methodist revival camp that began in 1835. The land is owned by religious groups, and services are still held in the huge outdoor amphitheater at the center of a cluster of small, gingerbread houses.

Nearby is an African-American enclave where more than half the beach goers on any given day are black. The island also has two Indian reservations, a couple of moderately priced campgrounds, a half-dozen public tennis courts, and a run-down friendly, neighborhood public golf course with the patchy greens that characterize under-financed municipal golf courses anywhere in the country.

"I live here year-around, and you do whatever you can to make a dollar," said Stephanie Bell, a ferry company employee. "My husband works five jobs, including bail commissioner. If you're arrested while you're here, he's the man to see. Some people are disgusted he'd pick this place, but you don't have to be rich and famous to come here. It's just a beautiful place to get away."

Those who believe Mr. Clinton is doing too close an imitation of people profiled in "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" gloss over another crucial point: Since the Clintons don't own a getaway home, they fret over finding a place where their daughter, Chelsea, can relax, too.

Last weekend, the president took his 13-year-old daughter to the small-town-scale West Tisbury Agricultural Fair, another middle-class pursuit open to anyone. Instead of being able to enjoy the rides, however, the president and his daughter were mobbed by well-intentioned gawkers who actually appeared to frighten Chelsea.

Thus, aides said, the president was grateful for a chance to take his wife and daughter aboard a yacht owned by a long-time companion of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, so they could swim, sunbathe and cruise in peace.

"I think the American people are quite content to see their president relaxing," said White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers. "I think they understand that it isn't as easy for them as it is for an ordinary family to find the kind of peace and quiet that they need."

Even Ms. Davis, the Republican critical of Mr. Clinton, conceded that concerns about Chelsea are a legitimate reason for the president to go where he wants. "It's the best reason there is," she said.

The president's staff was particularly perturbed by an editorial in Sunday's New York Times castigating Mr. Clinton for cavorting with "mainstream millionaires" in an "elitist haunt."

It seems to have galled them for two reasons: First, they keep running into New York Times reporters and editors who regularly spend parts of their summers here. In addition, they wonder what exactly the newspaper thinks he ought to do on his vacation.

"It's ridiculous" said one aide. "First they criticized him for not taking a vacation. Then they criticized him for taking one here. If he had gone to Arkansas, they would have criticized him for being an Ozark cracker."

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