All the President’s Leisure

You can’t really blame George W. Bush for wanting to take it easy. Anybody who’s in the work force is familiar with the notion of yearning for additional vacation days. But apparently there are limits to our empathy. A recent poll finds 55 percent of respondents opining that the president’s monthlong break from Washington is too much time off.

No one should be surprised by this. And it seems peculiar that a White House that’s been (unconvincingly) described as operating like a corporation could be so out of step with American ideas about hard work or at least about keeping up the appearance of hard work. Apparently the current “working vacation” will bring the amount of time he’s spent at his ranch to roughly two months, since taking office in January. This particular 30-day stretch will reportedly tie a modern record (with Nixon) for longest presidential absence from the White House. Where does Bush think he is, Europe?

Anyway, his team’s latest round of defensive spinning has gotten fairly comical. First, there’s the notion that what he’s embarking on isn’t really a few weeks of down time, per se, it’s a “Home to the Heartland Tour.” Perhaps in the course of this tour he’ll discover that in the heartland, few people have sprawling ranches to go home to. Also that few have the latitude to simply take off as much time as they want, as a president can; according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of paid days off for Americans with one year of service to their current employer is 9.6.

And of course Bush himself can’t resist putting everything in class terms, arguing that his decision to kick back in Texas makes him more of a real American than all those soft, elitist reporters complaining about the heat there this time of year. “I know a lot of you wish you were in the East Coast, lounging on the beaches, sucking in the salt air,” he chided the press corps. “But when you’re from Texas, and love Texas, this is where you come home.” So, you see, even in his conspicuous leisure, Bush is more in touch with regular Americans than the liberal media. (As a side note, I happen to be from Texas myself, and I can assure you that when I lived on the East Coast, I did not “come home” in August if I could possibly avoid it, for the same reason that the Bush family summered in Maine when W. was growing up.)

But really, Bush has taken enough grief over his vacation, and I say he ought to get a break. As it were. In fact, I think the man deserves a round of applause for taking a stand against those who would try to wring prestige from the supposedly endless busyness of their lives. If Bush doesn’t have to work 24/seven, as they say, to get his job done, then good for him. Let’s just take it as a tacit suggestion from the executive branch to our employers to give all of us more time off. Who could be against that? Bush ought to stop dissembling about his penchant for relaxation and just run with it—be the Vacation President!

Of course, making leisure policy the focus of his administration might require some time, and a lot of work. No reason to rush such a big project. Maybe a sabbatical would help.