Presidential Retreats

What does the word "vacation" mean to the president of the United States?

Few summer trips are more publicized than those of a president.

Ken Walsh, author of "From Mount Vernon to Crawford" and Chief White House Correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, and CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who travels with and reports on the president, take a look at some chief executive vacations, past and present.

President Bush ended his 66th visit to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on August 27th, bringing his total number of days spend there during his presidency to 432. "He has surpassed Ronald Reagan's time at his ranch during the 1980's. In fact, he passed that point two years ago. He loves being there - it renews him," says Knoller.

But just because he is the most vacationed president doesn't mean President Bush leaves work behind. Mr. Bush has often said that he is president no matter where he goes, and that includes his ranch.

The White House refers to the Bush trips to Crawford as "working vacations", and Knoller agrees. "He is always president," says Knoller. "Every day he gets national security briefings, he can make foreign leader phone calls."

Walsh thinks it's important for presidents to leave Washington every so often. "Really from the very beginning of the country, our presidents have sought to get out, particularly to their homes or their retreats," he says.

A president's personality often dictates where they vacation. But at one point, a prospective President Clinton allowed the public to weigh in on where his next trip should be. "He preferred to go to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, but when he was running for re-election, he had some polls taken to feel [out] where most voters would like him to go," says Walsh.

The people spoke, and they wanted the Democratic candidate to visit a national park. Clinton traveled to the national parks in the Western part of the United States, but decided it wasn't for him. "He's not an outdoor kind of guy," says Walsh. "After he was re-elected, he never went back."

Several presidents have been criticized for how and where they've spent their vacations. President Bush has faced his fair share of criticisms as well, with some people suggesting that he's been away too much when the country is at war with Iraq.

Walsh disagrees with such criticism of presidential retreats. "I think presidents do deserve the time off," says Walsh. "I think Americans don't begrudge presidents their time away from Washington, as long as it doesn't look as though they're goofing off or they're enjoying themselves when the country is suffering."

Vacations have historically been a guilty pleasure for presidents because they often feel as though they're neglecting their office by taking time off. Former President Jimmy Carter decided not to take time off during the Iranian hostage crisis.

In contrast, the late President John F. Kennedy reveled in his vacations and often used them as PR tools to boost his public image. Images of his vacations in Hyannisport, Mass., were often published. "People ate up these images," says Walsh.

With regards to President Bush, Walsh feels he is "taking pains to have a public schedule and to do things... [like] visiting New Orleans and visiting troops," in addition to taking vacations.

While he has taken more working vacations than any other president in history, President Bush plans to spend this Labor Day weekend at The White House.
By Erin Petrun

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