The mountains or the shore?

August 30, 1993

The eternal summer dilemma -- the mountains or the shore -- occurs for presidents as well as lesser mortals. Bill Clinton settled it in what is becoming his trademark way. He went to both. In the gusher of criticism being leveled at him for spending last week at that very symbol of Eastern Establishment privilege and leisure, Martha's Vineyard, it is being overlooked that he began his vacation the week before in modest digs at Beaver Lake on the Ozarks Plateau in his home state.

"Modest" is a relative term. Some 30 millionaires have summer homes in the area. His hosts were old friends with a 22-acre lakefront spread. He's a high-powered corporate lawyer and she's a professor of political science.

Jim and Diane Blair are not exactly in the Jackie K.O., Robert McNamara, Mike Wallace, Spike Lee category. Still, they are not exactly "Ozark crackers" either, a label one defensive Clinton staff aide said would have been put on the locals by an elitist press corps if the president had taken his entire vacation there.

Most presidents have vacationed at more than one place during their tenure in the White House. Most have indicated a preference in the mountains-versus-the-shore debate. Among the mountain men were Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford, who often relaxed in the Rockies. Probably Lyndon Johnson fits in this category. He liked the hill country near his Texas ranch. Add, too, Franklin D. Roosevelt. He preferred the hilly terrain around his health spa in Georgia. Ronald Reagan's Tip Top Ranch was in California's Santa Ynez Mountains.

The shore crowd definitely includes Harry Truman, who often relaxed (in some of the gaudiest sports shirts ever worn by a grown man) in Key West. John Kennedy always seemed at home and relaxed in Hyannis Port. Ditto George Bush in Kennebunkport. In point of fact, both men were literally at home in those places. Richard Nixon was a shore man, too, often fleeing Washington for Key Biscayne or San Clemente. Though we doubt the stories to the effect that he changed into his wingtips before going for a stroll, he never seemed relaxed or at home on the beach.

In one sense all presidents since World War II have been mountain men. FDR established a hideaway in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains in 1942. President Eisenhower later changed the name to Camp David, and presidents have used it often as a weekend retreat.

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