From a podium bearing the presidential seal set up before a grove on Blue Heron Farm, President Obama spoke to the people of Libya yesterday, saying, “An ocean divides us, but we are joined in the basic human longing for freedom, for justice and for dignity.”
Briefings on the situation in Libya, which he called “extraordinary” and “still very fluid,” have punctuated Mr. Obama’s family vacation on the Vineyard. By yesterday, halfway through his 10-day Island stay, the President was confident, as he said before the media pool gathered in Chilmark, that “the Qadhafi regime is coming to an end and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people.”
Since arriving Thursday evening at the up-Island estate the Obamas are renting, the President has traveled to Vineyard Haven to shop for books, to Edgartown for golf and beach time, to Menemsha for a dinner date with his wife, and to Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury for social events and meals. He even headed back to the Oak Bluffs School gymnasium yesterday in the sticky August heat, to play some basketball.
Islanders on Friday saw the President’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair in West Tisbury and at the Oak Bluffs fireworks, then crowded the foot of Main street in Edgartown yesterday, when the girls joined their mother, Michelle Obama, for lunch on the Edgartown harbor.
Through it all the President has been conferring regularly with his national security team. On Friday morning, the White House released a photo of Mr. Obama being briefed on national security by his top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, who had flown with him to the Vineyard on Marine One.
After stock market indexes dropped as much as five per cent on Thursday, the White House spokesman also noted that Mr. Obama on Friday received a briefing, on paper, from his economic team.
By Sunday night, the President’s deputy director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, arrived on the Vineyard. Mr. Deese met with the President Monday morning, briefing him on market developments from overseas. Mr. Deese also was on hand as the President made phone calls, including one to Berkshire Hathaway chief executive Warren Buffett, who has publicly called on the President to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and another to the head of Ford Motor Company, Alan Mulally.
While on vacation, the President is preparing a major speech about economic policy, scheduled for delivery on Labor Day in Detroit, Mich.
Yesterday the President also was briefed on Hurricane Irene, which has strengthened into the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season; it tore through Puerto Rico and Cuba and is tracking toward Florida and the Carolinas. Two years ago, approaching tropical storms saw the President leave his Vineyard vacation ahead of schedule.
The first full day of the President’s vacation this year began with a trip with his daughters to Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Main street, Vineyard Haven, to stock up on reading as they did last year. His holiday book selection was heavy on fiction this year, including the latest novel from Vineyard resident Ward Just, Rodin’s Debutante, and The Bayou Trilogy, a collection by Daniel Woodrell. The White House said the President brought with him to the Island two novels, Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, and To the End of the Land, by David Grossman, plus The Warmth of Other Suns, the story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson, who was recently a speaker at the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival and at the Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute.
Secret Service agents allowed a small group from the crowd gathering on the street through a security sweep to shake hands with the President as he entered the bookstore. Some people on the street started to chant “four more years,” and one held up a sign featuring two red boxing gloves facing each other — one said “Yes” and the other said “We can.”
Next the President played his first round at one of his favorite Island courses, Vineyard Golf Club, before enjoying dinner with the First Lady at the Beach Plum Inn.
The next day residents along Alpine street in Oak Bluffs set up lawn chairs and a sign reading, “Welcome Mr. President to Alpine Street,” as the Presidential motorcade rolled up shortly after 5 p.m. for a social visit with Vineyard seasonal resident and Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree.
The Saturday evening social event had about 100 people in attendance, including longtime Obama advisor and Island summer resident Valerie Jarrett. Mrs. Obama, who like her husband was once a student of Professor Ogletree’s, did not attend. Two days before Mr. Ogletree had hosted a forum, Race and the Media in the 21st Century, with speakers including Anita Hill, Gov. Doug Wilder and New York Times columnist Charles Blow.
As word got out that the motorcade was on Alpine street, larger crowds gathered to line the route as the President made his way back to Chilmark for the evening after about an hour.
Events overnight in Libya, where rebels were reported to have claimed much of the capital, Tripoli, were relayed the commander-in-chief on Sunday morning during a briefing by Mr. Brennan and officials in Benghazi.
By 10 a.m. though, briefings gave way to the beach. An entourage of some 15 vehicles in the Presidential motorcade exited Blue Heron Farm, bound for Pohoganot in the rural coastal perimeters of Edgartown, where the Obamas spent the late morning at Job’s Neck on a private, Atlantic-facing south shore beach.
Mr. Obama left the beach by 1 p.m. to head back to the Vineyard Golf Club, a short distance away. Mrs. Obama and the children stayed at the beach.
The President played the back nine plus a few more holes with golfing partners Eric Whitaker, Marvin Nicholson and UBS America executive Robert Wolf, who also played with the President last year.
Mr. Obama was back at home in Chilmark before 5 p.m. before the motorcade carrying the President sped down Lambert’s Cove Road, and then bottomed out (four times, according to a pool report) on the rocky (“big, scary boulders,” said the pool report), unpaved John Cottle Road to attend another informal reception at the West Tisbury home of Aileen and Brian Roberts. Mr. Roberts, a seasonal resident, is chief executive of Comcast.
The reception, however, apparently could not forestall the urge for fried seafood. After less than two hours in West Tisbury, Mr. Obama was back at Nancy’s Snack Bar, on the Oak Bluffs harbor, picking up takeout food with his wife and daughters, as he has done in each of his three vacations here as President. Hundreds of supporters had gathered to wave and shout “Four more years” and “We love you” as the President and First Lady exited hand in hand and shook some hands before taking their dinner to Ms. Jarrett’s nearby home.
From there, the President led another conference call about the situation in Libya. Patched in from Ms. Jarrett’s home were his chief of staff, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense, among others. He released a statement saying the Qadhafi regime had reached a “tipping point.”
By yesterday, he said the regime was collapsing, while emphasizing it was not over. He called on the rebels not to seek vengeance, and acknowledged that after the Qadhafi’s support for terrorist acts that had killed Americans, “to the American people, these events have particular resonance.”
He paid tribute to U.S. defense forces, NATO allies and the Libyan people, who had shown that “the power of people striving for freedom can bring about a brighter day.”
His eight-minute statement delivered, the President spent the bright Island afternoon shooting hoops at the Oak Bluffs School before returning for his evening at home with his family and, no doubt, for further briefings in Chilmark, where cell phone reception is considerably improved during his stay.
The President has no announced scheduled events during his vacation.