seems everyone is concerned about Bush and vacations. Some commentary
is simply informational, idiomatic questions put and answers given,
showing nothing more than workaday curiosity. "How many vacation
days a year does the President of the United States get?" Anybody
can answer that one, right? "Does he have to schedule his vacation?"
Uh, yes. "How does the Secret Service protect the president
while he's on vacation?" With guns. "Which members of
the staff are required to go on vacation with him?" Eeny, meeny,
We have seen any number of rundowns on presidential days spent away
from the White House. We read how many days he spent in Washington
and compare the figures with days spent out of town by his predecessors
in their first six months. We can add days spent in Kennebunkport,
and view them as vacation time. The toters run into problems when
needing to count days spent abroad, because these are presumably
work-time days, in no relevant way different from days spent in
the White House.
But commentary goes on, and at progressive levels of hostility.
Aboard Slate Inc., an exchange comes in between James Wolcott and
Zoe Heller, he of Vanity Fair, she of the London Daily
Telegraph. Both are voluptuously splenetic on the subject of
Bush. From Wolcott: "It seems so right that George Bush should
spend part of the day lending his sweat equity to Habitat for Humanity
in the Texas heat, a transparent charade to recast himself as a
compassionate conservative for all those moderate Republican women
voters who are less inclined than men to see the world reduced to
ash." (What that means is that W. doesn't particularly care
if global warming eliminates Life on Earth).
What presidents do on their vacation tends to be the subject of
ridicule or condescension. We recall that Ronald Reagan spent time
chopping down trees and splitting wood. Abe Lincoln probably wouldn't
have spent vacation time doing this, having had enough of it as
a young man. But if he had, somebody (most likely in Slate) would
have observed that splitting the skulls of Union generals would
have been more to the point.
But on vacation or off, Bush can't win, in Wolcott's view of things.
"To me, the most arrogant thing about Bush is his rugged humility.
That earnest tone he pipes into his voice when he talks about consulting
our allies on the challenges ahead or expresses concern about an
issue that he clearly isn't going to do anything about. I don't
believe he's a nice, caring soul."
Zoe agrees "He is a horrid, spoiled little boy and a pretty
disastrous president. But I have to say, I am enjoying his brazen
displays of sloth. There's something irresistibly funny about his
endless holidays and snoozes and tootling around in the gym — and
it's only made funnier by his handlers' attempts to cast the hooky-playing
as crucial periods of reflection, or whatever."
It doesn't matter what Bush does, he is "on vacation."
I am sensitive to the point because year after year, returning from
my six weeks in Switzerland, I am asked, How did you enjoy your
skiing vacation? I reply limply that I wrote a book. It would not
matter if Bush were as industrious as Harry Truman at Key West,
that is the slant his critics want to record. But look for the silver
lining! Ms. Heller's found it: "Bush's lack of appetite for
his job may, in fact, be the one way he manages to endear himself
to the international community. The Europeans, in particular, tend
to be horrified by the work ethic of the American professional class.
Bush may have reneged on Kyoto, but at least this is a guy who understands
the importance of a siesta."
Another correspondent comments with some dismay on the terrain to
which Mr. Bush retreats. "GWB's taste in vacation spots fits
in right along with rusty pick-up trucks, cheap shotguns, and other
ersatz proclamations of Wild West 'manhood' more than a century
after the western frontier closed for good. As effete as Kennebunkport
and Greenwich may be, they are preferable to dust, tumbleweeds and
This correspondent, an entrepreneur of exotic vacations by supersonic
air travel, closes his commentary, "It occurs to me that Skull
and Bones has rather low standards. How else to explain GWB's being
tapped?" There is a protocol against alumni answering such
questions, but the answer in this case is of course self-spoken:
the classmates who elected him to Skull and Bones knew he would