Bush's break is longest in a generation
By Jim Puzzanghera
San Jose Mercury News Aug. 8, 2001, front page
WASHINGTON Presidents usually flee the capital's sweltering summer to vacation outside the White House's confining iron fences, but President Bush's monthlong trip to his Texas ranch is stretching the boundaries of that tradition.
Bush's 30 full days away from the Oval Office most to be spent on his 1,600-acre property in Texas is the longest such break since Richard Nixon spent the same amount of time at his San Clemente home in 1969.
The White House has described Bush's time off as a "working vacation," noting he is still being briefed on developments and is considering major policies, such as whether to allow federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells. In addition, Bush will pepper the next month with several campaign-style appearances around the country.
But even with the modern technology that allows a president to attend to matters from anywhere, Bush is probably taking too long a break from the White House, said Leon Panetta, the Democratic former Congress member from Monterey who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.
"I really do think that with the nature of the problems confronting the world as well as this country, it just would be a little more comforting to make sure that he's around both the departments and agencies and crises that he's got to confront," said Panetta, who heads the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy at California State University-Monterey Bay. "I think 30 days is stretching it for the president to be out of Washington."
A majority of Americans share Panetta's view, according to a Gallup Poll released Tuesday by USA Today and CNN. Fifty-five percent of respondents think Bush's vacation is too long; 42 percent say it is not.
In his first comments to reporters since arriving at his ranch near Crawford on Saturday, Bush defended his decision to leave Washington until Labor Day.
"Washington, D.C., is a fine place, and I'm honored to be working in the Oval Office, staying in the compound there," Bush said early Tuesday morning before teeing off for a round of golf near his ranch. "But I'm the kind of person that needs to get outdoors. I like to be outdoors, I like to work outdoors. It keeps my mind whole, it keeps my spirits up."
The 'Heartland' tour
Bush administration officials have taken pains to describe Bush as still attending to the nation's business.
The White House has given Bush's time away from Washinton a name the "Home to Heartland Tour" and have planned several events throughout the month, such as helping build a home with Habitat for Humanity today in nearby Waco, addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Milwaukee and attending the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.
"They want to show him in settings with the masses. That may have less to do with his actual vacation than the potential vulnerability that he's not in touch with the concerns of average Americans," said Marshall Wittman, a senior analyst at the conservative Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, D.C. He joined Panetta in warning that Bush's long vacation may be heavily criticized.
Presidents traditionally have left Washington for stretches in the summertime. Congress takes a lengthy summer recess this year it stretches the same 30 days and many in government leave to escape the usual 90-degree temperatures and often-oppressive humidity.
Harry Truman liked Key West, Fla. Dwight Eisenhower preferred golfing in Augusta, Ga. And Clinton twice went to Jackson Hole, Wyo., in addition to a trip to New York's scenic Finger Lakes region and five jaunts to Martha's Vineyard, the exclusive Massachusetts island.
Homes away from home
Many presidents had homes they visited frequently, starting with George Washington, whose Mount Vernon estate is in Virginia just outside of Washington. In more recent times, John F. Kennedy had family compounds in Hyannisport, Mass., and Newport, R.I.; Lyndon Johnson had his own ranch in Texas; and Bush's father; George H.W. Bush, had a summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Ronald Reagan spent more than an entire year 436 days of his eight years in office in his adopted home state of California, most of it on vacation, some of it working.
The Washington Post calculated that Bush has spent 42 percent of his presidency at vacation spots or en route, including all or part of 54 days at his Texas home. Some of those days were spent working.
"I'm working, enjoying myself getting a lot done on the ranch, too," Bush told reporters Tuesday. "I know a lot of you wish you were in the East Coast, lounging on the beaches, sucking in the salt air, but when you're from Texas and love Texas this is where you come home. This is my home.
Contact Jim Puzzanghera at firstname.lastname@example.org.