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The Vacation President

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, March 4, 2008; 1:02 PM

President Bush famously, if unjustifiably, casts himself as Ronald Reagan's disciple. But in at least one way, he has surpassed his master.

According to the meticulous records kept by CBS Radio White House correspondent Mark Knoller, Bush on Monday lodged his 879th day spent in whole or in part at Camp David or his sprawling estate in Crawford, Tex.

By comparison, the 40th president only -- only! -- spent all or part of 866 days at Camp David or his ranch in California during his eight years in office, according to the Reagan Library. (By my count, Bush actually beat Reagan's mark on Dec. 30, during his Christmas vacation in Crawford.)

This, of course, is not the noblest of records to break. Reagan was frequently derided for his laid-back, hands-off approach to his job. He even poked fun of himself at the 1987 Gridiron Dinner: "It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?"

And, of course, Bush still has almost a year to go. His will almost certainly be a record for the ages.

Bush's current tally represents a little more than a third of his presidency. And that's not counting the 39 days that Knoller says he spent in whole or in part at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Me. All in all, Knoller says, Bush has made 134 separate visits to Camp David, 70 to Crawford and 10 to Kennebunkport in a little over seven years.

Knoller didn't set out to be the chronicler of Bush's indolence. In fact, in our e-mail correspondence, he shied away from calling Bush's time away "vacation." Says Knoller: "I agree that he can never really be 'on vacation' - since the job is always with him."

Knoller explains that he started collecting presidential travel data during the early days of the Clinton presidency. "I though it would be helpful to my radio reports to say how often he visited certain key states. So I started logging those visits. Then time 'on vacation'. . . . Then pardons, vetoes, addresses to the nation, rounds of golf, commencement speeches, foreign trips, news conferences, etc, etc.

"I liked having these little information nuggets that were not readily available elsewhere."

Bush's aides go to great pains to point out that even during his frequent getaways from the office, he continues to do some, if not a lot, of work. He receives daily national security briefings, signs documents and sometimes holds teleconferences. An invitation to hang out with Bush at Camp David or Crawford is seen as a reward for friendly foreign leaders.

But at some key points in his administration, Bush has been on vacation. For instance, he spent a month in Crawford shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when critics say he should have been more attentive to warning signs.

Mike Allen wrote in The Washington Post in August of 2001, as Bush's first long Crawford vacation wrapped up: "The length of the trip revived old questions about Bush's work ethic." Of course, no one knew at the time that Bush had, during the first week of that vacation, waved off the now-famous memo specifically for the president titled " Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." According to author Ron Suskind, Bush heard his CIA briefer out -- then told him, "All right. You've covered your ass, now."


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