Bill Clinton is finally enjoying one of the perks of a second-term president: vacationing where he wants.
Now associates are looking for a place for the Clintons to stay on Martha's Vineyard, summer playground for the rich and famous. But back in 1995 with the election looming, Clinton decided to find out what "married people with kids" approved of for vacation activities, since that was a group with whom he was doing badly in the polls. His top political adviser then, Dick Morris, had his polling firm conduct a nationwide survey.
Some 10,000 interviews later, Morris, as he writes in his book, "Behind the Oval Office," gave Clinton a list of "approved presidential activities for his coming vacation. I urged that he take a mountain vacation, that he hike and camp out."
In fact, camping was the respondents' favorite, and Clinton -- ever a slave to the polls -- followed the numbers. He went camping in Grand Teton National Park one night, in a real tent with a real campfire. Never mind that most of the rest of his vacation he was actually staying at the zillion-dollar Rockefeller estate nearby. Morris, meanwhile, lamented that Clinton allowed himself to be filmed golfing during the vacation, which washed out his advantage in camping and hiking. Golfing came out badly in the poll, considered a "Dole" sport, something Republicans did.
Morris admits in his book that polling on how presidents should vacation is "idiotic," but Clinton followed the advice, traveling to Wyoming in 1995 and 1996 after vacationing on the Vineyard in Massachusetts the first two years of his administration.
Clinton is not alone in being hassled by aides over where and how long presidential vacations should be. Advisers to the last three presidents were beside themselves trying to talk their principals into eschewing their routine vacation spots.
President Bush insisted on going to the same glorious family compound on the coast of Maine that he had vacationed at virtually since his birth, despite the advice of his aides. They even objected to the way he talked about it. Using the word "summer" as a verb, as in "We always summer in Kennebunkport," smacked of elitism. But it wasn't until the 1992 reelection summer, when the country was deep into a recession, that his aides managed to talk him out of his Augusts in Maine.
And then there was President Reagan. His mountain top ranch outside Santa Barbara, Calif., was not so much lavish as it was isolated. Because Reagan quickly gained the reputation of being out of it, and letting aides do virtually all the work of governing, his top advisers kept pleading with him not to spend so much time there. One historian calculated that Reagan spent a full year -- 365 days -- of his eight-year presidency at the ranch. Reagan, too, ignored his advisers and repeatedly traveled to Santa Barbara. Only when television showed long shots of Reagan horseback-riding while Marines were being shelled in Beirut or when the Korean Air Lines jet was downed was he ever persuaded to return to the White House.
With no voters to have to face again, however, Clinton has abandoned his tent and campfire and is thinking of the Vineyard. And that -- despite the polls -- will once again be home to the Clintons for part of August. CAPTION: The president and first lady seem bound for another trip to Martha's Vineyard. CAPTION: President Clinton, out for a ride during one of his Wyoming vacations.