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Camp For Show, Putt For Dough


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Camp For Show, Putt For Dough

By Calvin Trillin

Time cover

(TIME, July 28) -- Liberated from having to take his family on vacation wherever it would do him the most good electorally, President Clinton decided to go back to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where, as we used to say when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, he can play golf with his rich friends.

Dick Morris has written that for a couple of summers, the Clintons went West because a Morris survey had found that voters would look more kindly on a vacation that included hiking and camping out. Given my own camping experiences, the way I would have interpreted those findings was that American voters were saying, "If I have to try to sleep on the hard ground while being eaten by mosquitoes, why shouldn't he?"

So poor Clinton gave up the summer-vacation spot he liked and apparently spent at least one night in a tent. My sympathy for his sacrifice was limited. I spent precisely twice that many nights camping out with the kids in tents, and I'm still waiting for the electoral payoff.

Nevertheless, I'm pleased to see that the "permanent campaign" is over and Clinton is unshackled from the tyranny of the polls. Not having to run again, he can go back to Martha's Vineyard, which is obviously the place that a Dem-ocratic President up for re-election should have avoided from the start: for years the Vineyard has been known as the summer home of intellectuals and academics and journalists and entertainers who are liberal in their politics, and it has also been known as the single most difficult place in the entire country for a non-property owner to get to the beach.

The combination of liberal politics and high gates is not surprising in beach communities, where the bones of American society tend to show through as property lines. In a well-off summer community, a property-owner's views on affirmative action or foreign aid have nothing to do with where he stands on such issues as three-acre zoning or who should be eligible for beach-parking permits.

Unlike President Eisenhower's golfing partners, the people President Clinton will play golf with in Martha's Vineyard may be rich from movie deals or from Washington law firms rather than rich from CEO salaries, but they're still rich. The voters are aware that none of those guys are lined up at a national park in August, waiting for their turn to sleep on the ground.

When Clinton went West, he managed to find a golf course. In Morris' view, press pictures of Clinton on the links negated all the good done by pictures of the President around the campfire. Golf still has a strong association with rich people--although as a practical matter, the people sitting around a campfire with a vacationing President are also likely to be rich.

I realize that every Administration tends to make me nostalgic for the Administration that preceded it, but at this time of year, I do find myself missing George H.W. Bush, who was without tension in matters such as where one should summer. He went to Kennebunkport, Maine, where he had always gone. And there he played golf with his rich friends.

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