President Bush is now happily clearing trails, chopping cedar, and riding his mountain bike in the 100-degree heat of his Texas ranch. But his aides have been working hard to inoculate him from criticism that he is goofing off while the nation's problems fester and American soldiers battle in the streets of Baghdad.
Bush will remain mostly in seclusion on his 1,600-acre spread, getting outdoors and doing the manual labor that he enjoys. But aides say he will use his ranch as a base of operations for trips out of Crawford next week, including a couple of days in Canada meeting with Canadian and Mexican leaders.
He will also address the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City and attend a fundraiser in Minneapolis for Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota.
White House aides say this shows that Bush remains very much on the job even while technically on "vacation." They add that the president is getting his daily briefings on intelligence and other matters and has been talking on the phone with other world leaders, such as Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, and India's Mommahan Singh, about Iraq and other issues.
They point out that Congress is on its own summer break, but Bush can never escape from his duties as commander in chief no matter where he is.
Beyond all this, it's clear that Bush gets a bad rap from critics who say he has taken more vacation time or been away from Washington more than other president. I researched this for my 2005 book From Mount Vernon to Crawford: A History of the Presidents and Their Retreats and found that another Texan traveled to his personal hideaway far more than Bush has.
Lyndon Johnson spent 484 full or partial days at his Texas ranch during his 5?? years as commander in chief, while Bush has spent 421 days at his ranch so far during six years and seven months in office. LBJ partisans say he worked harder than Bush when he was on "vacation," but that's impossible to quantify.
One thing the critics have correct is that Bush has been at his ranch more often than Ronald Reagan went to his spread in Santa Barbara, Calif. Reagan, who famously loved his time off, spent 345 days of his eight-year presidency at Rancho del Cielo, which was considered a big number at the time.
Bush has far exceeded that but, again, it's impossible to say whether he has put in more work time than the Gipper while on holiday.
By Kenneth T. Walsh