With 14 million Americans out of work, a volatile stock market and a historic downgrade of the country’s credit rating, President Obama is set to begin a 10-day retreat Thursday at a 28-acre Martha’s Vineyard compound called Blue Heron Farm, which costs an estimated $50,000 per week to rent. That divide — and the presumed hypocrisy of a president who has pledged not to rest “until every American looking for a job can find one,” going golfing and biking on an island playground for wealthy celebrities — has been too much for political pundits to resist.
Obama has taken heat the past two
summers for renting Blue Heron, but the difference this time is the intensity of his critics and the fact that they are on both sides of the political aisle. Republican strategist Mike Murphy told the Daily Beast that Obama is “acting like the rich guys he wants to raise taxes on,” while liberal columnist Colbert I. King wrote in The Washington Post that this is the wrong time “to dwell in splendid seclusion among the rich and famous.”
At last week’s Republican presidential debate, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was so quick to criticize that he flubbed the destination: “He should cancel his Cape Cod vacation, call the Congress back into session and get to work on this.”
So far, the administration has held firm on the president’s right to “spend some time with his family,” as White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Besides, he added, a president is never really on vacation because “the presidency travels with you.”
“He will be in constant communication and get regular briefings from his national security team as well as his economic team,” Carney said. “And he will, of course, be fully capable, if necessary, of traveling back if that were required. It is not very far.”
If it’s not far in mileage to travel on Air Force One, Martha’s Vineyard is a world away from the down-and-dirty partisan politics of Washington and the small-town, middle-American vibe of Obama’s three-day bus tour of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, which wraps up Wednesday.
The island features six quaint seaside towns, where the average house price is $650,000. Blue Heron Farm, owned by William Van Devender, a Mississippi timber merchant, boasts a main house, several guest quarters, a swimming pool, a golf tee and a basketball court.
If last summer is any indication, Obama will probably hit the links at the Vineyard Golf Club, catch up on his summer reading at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore and ride bikes with daughters Malia and Sasha at the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, a 5,100-acre preserve with 15 miles of bike trails.
Obama has paid his family’s share of the property’s rental cost each summer. But as is the case each time the president travels on official duties, taxpayers are on the hook for the millions of dollars it could cost for the Secret Service to secure the island, as well as for the transportation and housing of dozens of White House staff.