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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
The perfect holiday for a president
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News Online

Mr Bush is on a
George Bush has met up with Colin Powell and his wife while on holiday
It's August and President George W Bush has swapped Washington for the parched heat of eastern Texas. For one month, the world's superpower will be run from his 1,600-acre ranch off Prairie Chapel Road in Crawford.

There, the president can get stuck into what appears to be his most cherished form of recreation - clearing brush. He will also jog, fish and survey his ranch aboard his sports utility vehicle.

But Mr Bush's aides have been keen to stress that this is a "working vacation" - no slacking for this president.

"I don't think the president of the United States ever gets a break," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said before Mr Bush repaired south. But he added that it was an "opportunity for him to go home and spend some time at home... This is a great time to get out into the heartland of America, away from the bubble of Washington DC".

Yes, even the president's holiday is not spin-free. Advisers have worked hard to strike the right balance between a president at work and play.

Mr Bush has already met US Secretary of State Colin Powell and is playing host to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Next week, there will be an economic summit and then he will take his economic message around the country in day trips from Crawford.

Image making

And, of course, there will be the pre-requisite photo opportunities of Mr Bush working the land, dressed in jeans, cowboy hat and boots. This will, it is hoped, boost his image and connect him with rural heartland values. It was, after all, heartland voters who supported him in the last election.

Princeton University presidential historian Fred Greenstein says that with the modern American president, the vacation is a part of the image-making machine.

George Bush at his Crawford ranch
Mr Bush favours the Western theme for his holidays
"Because this is a figure whose finger is always close to the nuclear button, there has to be constant attention to what he does," Mr Greenstein told BBC News Online.

"The holiday is a way of offering a window into the values and lifestyle of the president."

Bush senior has traditionally spent holidays at the family's huge house by the sea in Kennebunkport, Maine. This is the way moneyed easterners have traditionally occupied themselves. But, for Bush junior, glamorous seaside salons may not go down well in the political image stakes of Middle America.

Asked by a reporter once why he chose to spend a month in the Texas dust-bowl, President Bush replied that not all Americans sat around swilling white wine in Martha's Vineyard.

This was an apparent dig at his predecessor Bill Clinton, who favoured retreating to the homes of his rich friends in the Vineyard and the Hamptons.

In 1996, however, President Clinton became so caught up by the electoral implications of his annual vacation that he famously asked Dick Morris, then political strategist and presidential adviser to take a poll on where he should go on holiday.

Unhappy holiday

The Vineyard was seen as too elitist. Hiking, however, got the thumbs-up. The polls had indicated that swing voters like the outdoors.

As a result, Mr Clinton spent a miserable time camping and hiking on the Snake River near the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming.

We now know that two years later, Mr Clinton had another unhappy holiday. In 1998, when allegations of his affair with Monica Lewinsky emerged, the family retreated to the Vineyard.

The Clintons retreated to the homes of their rich friends
The Clintons on their way to Martha's Vineyard during the Lewinsky scandal
"Buddy, the dog, came along to keep Bill company. He was the only member of our family who was still willing to," writes Hillary Clinton in her new autobiography Living History.

Apparently Mr Clinton hated holidays full stop.

"It almost killed Clinton to take one-week vacations during August," says his former strategist Jim Jordan. "He would take one week almost every summer in the Martha's Vineyard, and he was famously 'antsy' when he was doing so. But the other weeks of the vacation, he was very, very busy."

More human

Ronald Reagan was criticised for talking long summer breaks at the western White House in Santa Barbara. It is estimated that in the last years of his presidency he retreated to his ranch for up to a third of his time.

Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was criticised for not taking enough time off. He did, however, create a kind of rustic theme park in Georgia, where he played softball with members of the press corps.

George Bush senior came in for some holiday flak after taking time off from planning the first Gulf War to go fishing.

Richard Nixon holds the record for the longest holiday for his 30-day trip to San Clemente in California in 1969.

But, according to Professor Greenstein, Nixon's holidays were used by his advisers as a way to project a more human image of the president.

"Nixon used to go down to the beach for his holidays but the photographs showed him walking along the beach in blazers and street shoes," he says.

"His advisers decided to get him a dog so that the president would come across as a looking a bit more relaxed, more human. Apparently they used to secrete dog food onto his blazer to get the Red Setter to get closer to him for the photographs."

Franklin D Roosevelt, fresh from one holiday of deep sea fishing, announced that the sharks he had seen under water had prepared him to do battle with Congress.


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