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President's extended stay at his Texas home isn't vacation as usual

Sunday, August 12, 2001

Polling data this week indicates the majority of Americans are a little ticked off that the president's vacation will last some 4 1/2 weeks, and I guess they're right, inasmuch as that there aren't a lot of places where you accrue 31 vacation days after six months on the job.

This leader-of-the-free-world gig has its perks, you've noticed, the greatest of which, in my mind, is that you don't have to pay to park. But there's no point in getting upset with the president over vacation length, mostly because Dubya in repose is so preferable to Dubya at his desk, but also because nothing is spelled out on what Americans should expect from their president in this regard.

Bush's vacation is among the longest on record for an Oval Office holder, but it's not blatantly improper, especially when you consider that the guy actually seems busy down there in Crawford, Texas, which probably isn't easy.

Reporters portray the president as dutifully studying major issues like Middle East policy, stem-cell research and global warming, taking national security briefings and scheduling strategic day trips to hear the voice of the American heartland. Ya know, this might be a good way of operating when you're actually at work. I guess he feels there'll be plenty of time for napping once he's back under Dick Cheney's feet in Washington.

But all things being equal, what is the proper vacation length for the president of the United States?

Certainly, the president should take time off. That's important, perhaps even imperative. But the people who elect him (well, all right, not this time, but usually) consider the job fairly vital, or they wouldn't make him swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States so help him God. Since Americans expect due diligence from a range of professionals in important jobs -- health care, law enforcement and convenience-store clerking leap to mind -- the president should endeavor to work very hard. He should assume he'll be there for only four years, and so should be able to forgo lengthy vacations for that period in his life.

A two-week vacation seems only prudent, I think, and any president should confine his golfing to that period. The president should not golf, generally, which I know is the opposite of the Eisenhower philosophy, which was: The golfer should not president, if he can help it.

The president can turn up on TV doing almost any inane thing -- officiating an Easter egg hunt, whatever -- and it doesn't bother me a bit. But when he golfs, I always think, "Does he have nothing to do?" The leader of the free world, the preserve, protect and defender so help me God, should not have a five-hour hole in his day for swatting a Titleist around a country club.

But that's just me.

Beyond that, I'd offer very few guidelines on what a president ought to be doing on his vacation. Bush's father was good at getting himself caught on news video racing a speedboat near Kennebunkport. Once, when his vacation serenity was pierced by some antics by Saddam Hussein, the president found himself talking about energy policy and the growing need to conserve fuel. He was at that point asked if he'd be docking his cigarette boat for the near term.

"That's a fair question," he said. "No."

This particular president's vacation carries the whiff of politics, though not the stench of the typical Clinton vacation. The old horn dog once actually chose vacation destinations based on polling data, and later simply on which celebs would have him. Though Bush's love of his Crawford home is surely genuine, political strategists love the dichotomy its heartland image erects against Clinton's "elitist" Martha's Vineyard respites. But, please, on a 150-acre Texas ranch with a man-made fishing hole, it's not as though Bush is vacationing in North Philadelphia.

Bush will visit Pennsylvania in a couple of weeks for the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Coupled with his support of T-ball at the White House, it's apparent that Dubya enjoys baseball as played by the still largely unaccomplished. Perhaps he'd enjoy a side trip to PNC Park. He's planning a trip to Wisconsin as well. Those are two states he lost narrowly last November, and winning them over would go a long way toward helping him stay in Washington past 2004. Should he win a second term, incidentally, Bush would, at the current rate of accruement, be eligible for 49 1/2 weeks of vacation in 2006.

Has some appeal, doesn't it?

You can write to Gene Collier at gcollier@post-gazette.com

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