Inside the Capitol

Friday, September 09, 2005

9-19 Presidential Vacations

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- President Bush has received some rough treatment in the media for the frequency and length of his vacations.
And it got even tougher when Hurricane Katrina hit while he was at his ranchette in Texas. At that point, he was referred to by some as the vacationer-in-chief.
We hear that his total time out of Washington has now passed Ronald Reagan's and is closing in on the record set by Richard Nixon.
As usual, these news folks are short on history. Recorded history for them started with the beginning of their careers.
Nixon and Reagan did take a lot of time off. The public begrudged Nixon's sailing vacations with Bebe Rebozo but it didn't mind Reagan going to his California ranch. They knew he was a cowboy because they'd seen him in the movies.
The pictures of Reagan clearing brush on his ranch ran in every paper. They made him look hardy, even in his advancing years. So what were the first photo ops we saw of Bush at his country place? Clearing brush.
Making a show out of clearing brush didn't start with Reagan. He borrowed it from hale and hardy Teddy Roosevelt, when he spent the summers at his estate on Sagamore Bay, Long Island.
That's right. I said he spent summers there -- not just August as is the practice of our current president and Congress. Washington was too hot in the summer, so until air conditioning came along, presidents headed for the beach or the mountains. And few people complained.
But the champion vacationers were our founding fathers. George Washington set the standard by going home to Mount Vernon for long stays as often as he could. But the record holder for lengthy vacations is likely John Adams, our second president.
No one accused Adams of being lazy. His Calvinist outlook meant he worked full time. Messengers took work back and forth. One stretch lasted seven months. At home, Adams labored in the fields on his crops, built stone walls, cut hay and seaweed for fodder, and of course, he cut brush.
Some of our recent presidents enjoyed the Washington whirl enough that they stuck around. Clinton loved the White House. George Bush, Sr. spent some time at Kennebunkport in the summers. His official address was a hotel room in Houston, where he didn't spend much time.
Jimmy Carter liked to go home to Plains, Ga. to see his family. The press was welcome to hang around. They talked with his mother, the colorful Miss Lillian, while Jimmy played softball with the family. And of course, brother Billy always made a good story.
Lyndon Johnson loved to take reporters to the Johnson ranch. Now that was a ranch. He'd pack his guests in his car and take off at breakneck speed to show them his spread.
President Kennedy went to Hyannisport often for family gatherings and games of touch football. Reporters were welcome there too and enjoyed rubbing elbows with the rich and famous.
A military career meant President Eisenhower didn't put down roots. But he liked golf and took frequent vacations to Palm Springs and other resorts. There was some complaining about too much golf, but the American people loved Ike, the war hero, and didn't begrudge him some rest.
It was Harry Truman who may have caught the most flack for his many escapes to Key West, Florida. One story was that after the end of World War II, the president showed considerable evidence of stress from the whirlwind life he led after assuming the presidency in April 1945 with no briefings on the war. Naval doctors suggested he escape for awhile. And he loved it.
Franklin Roosevelt also was a vacationer. He went to his home at Hyde Park as often as possible. He also built a retreat he called Shangri-la, which Eisenhower renamed Camp David. And FDR spent much time at his Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga.
Presidential vacations involve work. With today's communication systems, they can stay plugged in. But President Bush gets himself in trouble for appearing not to do much more than cutting brush.
MON, 9-19-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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