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Obama on vacation, but mostly out of sight

A week into the president's trip to Martha's Vineyard, he hasn't mingled much with the locals. He has spent his time reading and playing board games with his family.

August 26, 2010|By Peter Nicholas, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Oak Bluffs, Mass. —

Get a glimpse of President Obama? No?

One week into his Martha's Vineyard vacation, the president has largely stayed out of sight, spending most of his time reading and playing board games with family and friends on the secluded 28.5-acre estate he is renting through the weekend.

Obama has gone out three times for meals and once to a bookstore, played golf and shot hoops, but has stayed with a close circle of family, friends and trusted aides.

In some ways he is the un-Clinton. Where former President Clinton treated his summer trips to the Vineyard as a prolonged, movable party — save for 1998, when he was reeling from the Monica Lewinsky scandal — Obama seems intent on shedding his public persona in favor of private relaxation.

White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters that the first family was "watching some movies, reading some books and getting some good downtime — spending time with each other."

But if Obama needs a break from the public, the islanders aren't so eager to give him one. Restaurants are trying to lure him in with special concoctions called the "Obamarita" and the "Barack-O-Guaco."

A sign at an information kiosk reads: "Island Dogs Welcome Bo!" Clothing stores are selling Obama T-shirts, ice cream shops special Obama sundaes.

People lined up to see the first family Wednesday when they arrived at Nancy's in Oak Bluffs for lunch. Crowds swelled on street corners near the waterfront restaurant, which was blocked off with yellow tape. Obama, wearing a White Sox hat, tan pants and a white polo shirt, ordered his lunch at an outdoor stand and then greeted some onlookers who shouted, "Mr. President!"

"Good to see you guys," he said, shaking hands. "You doing all right?"

He wasn't quite as pleased to see reporters, who asked about Iraq. Obama is set to give a prime-time speech about the Iraq war from the Oval Office on Tuesday, two days after he returns home. "We're buying shrimp, guys," the president said. "C'mon."

Michelle Obama and the girls have gone out a few more times. Daughters Sasha and Malia have twice visited a video arcade on a retail strip in Oak Bluffs. Joined by their mother, the two girls, ages 9 and 12, also stopped at Mad Martha's for some ice cream.

Trying to capitalize on the shifting public mood, some merchants are catering to both the left and right.

The Locker Room on Circuit Avenue is selling Obama T-shirts, but also a shirt featuring George W. Bush above a caption reading "Miss Me Yet?"

Co-owner Alex McCluskey said the Bush shirts, which have been featured on national TV news shows, are outselling the Obama shirts 2 to 1.

The publicity has put McCluskey in a bit of an awkward position. He describes himself as an independent who voted for Obama in 2008. But he is getting calls from people ordering the shirts and telling him, "You're the savior of the Republican Party up on the Vineyard," he said in an interview.

Joining Obama on the trip are Chicago friend Eric Whitaker, senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and others.

They've played poker and spades, along with the games Scrabble and Taboo.

Burton said, "This will probably get me fired, but I know that Valerie did not do so well in Scrabble against the president."

Tame stuff by Clinton standards.

During one three-week visit to Martha's Vineyard in 1997, Clinton went to about a dozen private parties.

One time, the Clintons closed down a local golf club at 1 a.m., after the president led fellow partyers in a chorus of "In the Midnight Hour." The late writer William Styron, asked how many times he had dined with the Clintons on that trip, said, "I've lost count."

Some residents wish Obama was as extroverted.

Derek Hull, owner of a T-shirt shop in Oak Bluffs and a native islander, said that Clinton "connected with the people of the island, which gave everyone a sense of comfort. Obama is the opposite. It's hard to catch a glimpse of the guy."

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