Clearly this fellow Reagan still has an awful lot to learn about being president.
Take the matter of a simple, but authentically bipartisan, national custon: the presidential vacation. As you may have heard, Mr. and Mrs. Reagan spent last weekend at their California ranch. The rest of you can only hope that the Reagan's brief hiatus was enjoyable and relaxing for the both of them. But while the stay at the ranch may have been a vacation for the president, it was not, by and established standards, a presidential vacation.
The presidential vacation -- like the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which urged abstinence, not temperance -- is not exactly what its name suggests. The truly presidential vacation is a lot more presidential than it is vacation. The president has a lot of important phone calls and meetings that enable him to stay right on top of everything and very much in control. He has at least one important visitor every day. By wearing dark business suits, the visitors underline the seriousness of the meetings. Only a president could be all business in an open-necked sport shirt.
So what did this new president do over the long neo-Memorial Day weekend? Nobody really knows. We were told that he cleared brush from the trails and chopped firewood. In five days, he must have chopped enough firewood to make the OPEC ministers nervous. But there were no important meetings or important visitors to the Reagan ranch. We saw no photos of the president poring over those eyes-only briefing books. Could he be unaware of the terrible, lonely burden he is carrying? Has no one told him that the president's job is probably too much for any one man?
Presidents establish trends. When President Kennedy chose not to wear a soft hat, a couple of generations uncovered their heads, and the hat industry never really recovered. Just consider what Ronald Reagan's example could mean for Washington and the nation. This president just might unilaterally abolish one of our reliable status symbols of the self-important -- the working vacation. We do not make automobiles or hamburger in Washington. Our production is often not easily measured in tangible units. So sometimes, when people cannot measure their actual production or output, they instead measure their input, the time they are in the office or at the desk.
Most public and private organizations, and every political campaign, have a minimum of one martyr. the martyr's official duties may vary, but the martyr's personal mission is always the same. It is to be the first person there in the morning and the last person to leave at night -- and to make sure that everyone else, in and out of the organization, is aware of the martyr's schedule.
Undoubtedly, this White House has more than one martyr. But Ronald Reagan is manifestly not one of them. He enjoys himself too much. He has not been photographed, alone and late at night, in anguished isolation. If somebody is really serious about his work and his work is really serious, the illogic goes, then he must wear a pained facial expression. Ronald Reagan smiles too much.
Who knows where all of this might lead? Perhaps some future presidential press secretary will give a really candid briefing that goes something like this: "The president last night finished the Agatha Christie book. He enjoyed it immensely. Today, the president read the sports page and 'Mary Worth,' so he will have no immediate comment on the latest statement by the Presbyterian Liberation Army. The president had two glasses of cablis at lunch, and he is now taking a nap."
That would certainly do it. None of us would ever again have to feel guilty about reading Luke Short instead of Reinhold Niebuhr at the beach. The president who does this may just win reelection by acclamation.