Margaret Carlson, author of "Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House," writes for Bloomberg News.

During her 15 minutes of unwanted fame, accused racist turned celebrated anti-racist Shirley Sherrod urged President Barack Obama to visit her corner of Georgia.

"I need to get him down here with some regular folks to see how they live and how they get along," she said. "It might give him a better understanding on how to promote togetherness in this country." A lovely idea, Shirley, but get in line behind the Gulf Coast.

Before BP's deep-sea well was capped, Obama swung a golf club in a polo shirt - rather than a containment boom in a Hazmat suit - so the first family will spend part of its August vacation on the Gulf Coast in Florida.

A presidential vacation is never just a vacation. It has been made into a window on the chief executive's soul, a declaration of presidential priorities. Don't take enough days off and you're a grind, like Jimmy Carter. Take days at the wrong time, or go to the wrong place, and you're an insensitive goof-off.

You'd think Americans would want their president to have some quality time with the family, recharging the ol' batteries in a beautiful place. Instead, the Republican National Committee is tracing Obama's every moment away from the Oval Office, as if he's escaping house arrest. But deep down, even the bomb-throwers know the president is perpetually on high alert, surrounded by staff and pulled aside for briefings, no matter where he is.

What poor Obama lacks is the open-range ranch or waterfront compound that his predecessors owned and cannily re-branded for an accepting public. Richard Nixon had his Winter White House in Key Biscayne, Fla. The press so much liked going to Ronald Reagan's Western White House in Santa Barbara, Calif., that it seldom appears these days without the word "beloved" before it.

A "working vacation" sells if the setup looks as if generations have unwound there. When President George H.W. Bush announced the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1991, he shifted seamlessly from a guy motoring in a cigarette boat to a president standing on land that had been in his family for 100 years.

And few could lob credible complaints of elitism or luxury at President George W. Bush and his own Western White House, the ranch in Crawford, Texas. It was dry and dusty, and the nearest diversion was the Dr Pepper Museum.

Last month, in his first crack at summer 2010, Obama brought his family to Maine, hiking in Acadia National Park and, no doubt, marveling at a state that produced two Republican senators who saved his financial-regulation bill. Sounds like work to me.

After dragging his family to the Gulf, Obama will head to Martha's Vineyard. The only thing that might quiet the Republican heckling might be a contrition tour: From New England, proceed to southwestern Georgia to see the wrongly terminated Sherrod for a lesson in civil rights history.

Head north in a fuel-efficient General Motors car to visit an unemployment line in Detroit.

Go west to Arizona, pull up a plastic chair next to Gov. Jan Brewer, and scan the horizon for illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico.

In New York City, go to Wall Street incognito and declare your admiration for how the Obama administration has cleaned up our financial system. If the worst happens and you get beat up and require stitches, the visit to an emergency room will give you a front-row view of the early stages of Obamacare.

Finally, grace a newsroom, where a dying industry would be ever so grateful if you promised to stop taking your message over our heads to shows like "The View." It's August. There's a lot of white space to fill. You can help.