(Alex Brandon / AP Photo)
Barack Obama is out of the office until August 16*.
Recognizing that he has to "refresh" himself after 18 months on the trail, as he told British Tory leader David Cameron last month--and attempting to accommodate the 48 percent of voters who've informed pollsters they've heard “too much” about him in recent weeks--the presumptive Democratic nominee is currently spending eight days at a secluded beach house an hour's drive from Honolulu, Hawaii. "The most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking," he told Cameron. "[If not,] you start making mistakes or you lose the big picture."
Sounds reasonable, right? Not, it seems, to his critics, who started snipping and sniping before O-Force One even left Chicago. Their main line of attack is not that Obama's timing is off--an absurd but at least arguable criticism, given that there are less than three months until Election Day and a mere two weeks until the Democratic National Convention. It's that he is--you guessed it--an elitist. Or that he risks looking like one.
Here we go again. On Friday, the Republican National Committee released “Barack Obama’s
Hawaii Trade Guide,” a roadmap to key sites on the island, including Punahou, his prestigious prep school,
and a local filling
station with especially expensive gasoline. Then former Bill Clinton
pollster Douglas Schoen told the Politico--in an article entitled "Vacations Risky for Candidates"--that "for somebody who has been called ‘elitist,’ going to Hawaii is not
exactly going against type." "I would rather have him
going to national parks," Schoen added. Meanwhile, Cokie Roberts opined that "it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place," and even the New Republic's Michael Crowley chimed in. "If Obama's being smeared as a highfalutin
celebrity who is somehow 'other' and distant from the American
heartland, is Hawaii really the ideal vacation destination?" he wrote. "It sounds trivial but such things can resonate."
Indeed such things can--especially if the punditocracy keeps regurgitating them in the guise of analysis. (Recall, if you will, John Kerry's 2004 vacation to Nantucket, where he exposed himself--to the media, at least--as the world's first windsurfing aristocrat.) In this case, however, I'd like to think that voters are too smart to take this ritual seriously.
First, Obama didn't choose Hawaii for its beautiful beaches. He spent much of his childhood there--including high school--and is returning mainly to visit his housebound 85-year-old grandmother, whom he hasn't seen since December 2006. As far as I can tell, there's nothing "highfalutin" about flying home for vacation. Unless family is only for elitists.
Second, even if Obama didn't have
roots in Hawaii, the place isn't exactly an "elite" destination. Each
year, the islands attract about 7.5 million visitors--most of them
middle-class Americans. As the Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum notes, Hawaii "ranks right in between Disneyland and the Grand Canyon on the
elitism meter, and probably a couple of notches below a visit to
Yosemite." In other words, it's no Nantucket.
Third, the most "elite" aspect of Obama's Hawaiian upbringing--his time at the upscale Punahou School, which costs $17,000 a year--wasn't all that elite: the son of single mother, he attended on scholarship. (The same can't be said for John McCain, who spent his formative years at the exclusive St. Stephen’s School and Episcopal High in Alexandria, Va.)
Finally, Obama is staying in a rental property for the next week--which will probably prove less expensive than investing, like McCain, in a 6.6-acre, $1.1 million weekend getaway ranch in Sedona, Ariz. Or any of his six other houses.
point isn't that McCain is "more elitist" than Obama. Both of them are
relatively wealthy and relatively "out of touch." That's what happens
when you spend most of your time around politicians, staffers and reporters instead of actual human beings. As I've written before,
the presidency is a pretty elite office, and anyone who thinks himself best qualified for the job is probably an elitist by
definition. Rather, my point is WHO CARES. Last month, the Republicans were trying to
insinuate that Obama's predilections for exercise, organic
chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars somehow disqualified him from the
presidency. Now they're saying that spending a week near his childhood
home--and his elderly grandmother--is proof of his snobbery.
Here's hoping that America's voters aren't as silly as its pundits.
*Changed (from 17) for accuracy.