CORONADO, CALIF., APRIL 1 -- It worked!
Things seem a little lighter and brighter for Bill Clinton today than they did when he fled Washington a week ago. And if it's only temporary, hey, what more can a man ask of a vacation?
Last Sunday, when the president arrived in this sun-splashed ville on the Pacific where the halyards snapping on the aluminum masts of pleasure yachts make a tinkling not unlike that of margaritas being mixed in crystal pitchers in the palatial homes lining the beach, he appeared on the cover of Time with a grim banner that read: "Deep Water."
Even after the Clintons had gratefully departed from the dreaded Beltway last weekend for Dallas to kick off their vacation by attending Roger Clinton's wedding and an Arkansas Razorbacks basketball game, the cheerfully howling pack of national press -- whose job it is to follow the president everywhere -- was still, for a few days anyway, shouting those Questions About Whitewater.
Gradually, though, everyone seemed to start chilling out.
Perhaps it was the balmy influence of the Southern California sun in springtime and the adulation of the many voters who've gathered around the Clinton family's borrowed vacation mansion here near San Diego to cheer him on daily.
Perhaps it was the golf, or the visit to the San Diego Wild Animal Park yesterday where Chelsea fed the giraffes carrots by hand and Hillary appeared in a pith helmet, looking vaguely like a North Vietnamese Army officer.
Or maybe it was merely that the press corps itself had more or less run out of steam, and taken to the beach.
In any case, by week's end the president actually looked relaxed. Smiling. Confident.
Mischievous, even: On the golf course this morning, after ignominiously slicing one off the first tee into the eucalyptus trees near some waiting reporters, he quipped, "That's right, there they are!" to his golf partner and brother-in-law, Tony Rodham.
Even the somewhat somber midweek appearance here of national security adviser Anthony Lake, who briefed the president on Korea and other matters, failed to put much of a damper on the festivities -- though the great gray warships looming in the ocean mist off the big Navy bases here seemed a ghostly reminder of how bad things could suddenly get at any time.
But no matter. For now, you could almost fantasize that the world's problems, even the raging of Whitewater, have receded like the foaming whisper of the retreating surf along the broad sandy beach where the Clintons have been jogging, biking and -- for a couple of days after Hillary's midweek debut as a commodities ace -- strolling together, hand in hand, in cozy solidarity.
Even Clinton's somewhat Hooverish remark Thursday about the solidity of the American economy -- he'd been asked about the stock market -- didn't do any harm. The Dow did do a little upward jag.
Yes, it's been a nice respite for everyone.
Of course it won't last. Nothing does. But the president awoke this morning to a Los Angeles Times poll showing his approval rating among Californians at 58 percent, a seven-point jump since October and his highest here since the inauguration.
Who says geographic cures don't work?
In fact, this one seems to be working so well that after the Clintons return to the White House Saturday night following a brief pit stop in Charlotte, N.C., for the Arkansas-Arizona NCAA Tournament game, the president is scheduled to set out on a dizzying week of cross-country travel to promote his health care plan in a series of media events and televised "town meetings."
After church Easter Sunday, and the all-important Easter Egg Roll on the White House South Lawn Monday morning, off he goes.
Monday is Cleveland. Tuesday is Charlotte again -- or even earlier if his team is a winner Saturday and the Razorbacks play there Monday night. Charlotte, though, his aides claim, is mainly a health care event. Wednesday to Bowling Green, Ky., for Rep. William Natcher's funeral. Thursday, Topeka, Kan. Friday, Minneapolis.
"The president and the First Lady will spend a significant amount of time in the next month traveling," said top communications aide Jeff Eller.
In other words, they ain't coming back anytime soon.
Here this morning, the Moving Target strategy of handling political crises seemed to continue its magic.
"God bless you," a happy Clinton exclaimed on the beach to a woman who'd just told him, "We voted for you, we're working for you!"
He shook hands and shot the breeze with her and several hundred others -- though "touching hands" might be a more accurate description of the way the guy reaches out, often holding his arm in position till he's in a joint handclasp with a bunch of people at once.
Every morning he's gone out like this -- to jog, sure -- but mainly to charge up those politico-emotional batteries for the day. The people who gather and wait for a chance to see him tend not to be your well-to-do Republicans from around here but a sprinkling of vacationers along with working people from across the bay in San Diego, and elsewhere.
"I came from Colorado to visit my cousins, and look at the treat I get," said John R. Chavez, a retired school custodian, this morning. "I got to shake the hand of the president, and he looked me right in the eye!"
"We love you, Bill!" one woman shouted. Another called out, "Save the rain forest, save endangered species!" At one point, he was greeted with a cacophony of sound from a local radio station, a few saxophones and a motley group singing a tune that mystified everyone but the prez.
"Did you hear that?" he said, clutching his forehead in disbelief. "My high school fight song. They were playing my high school fight song."
If only he could get someone to do that in Washington.