When they are not blaming him for warming the Gulf of Mexico to just the right hurricane-spawning temperature, or gutting emergency response budgets for the damage caused by Katrina, George W. Bush’s critics are accusing him of a general insensitivity to the suffering of the hurricane’s victims, demonstrated by his continuing his vacation as Katrina came ashore. First, some of them spread the (incorrect) story that Bush played golf on Monday as Katrina hit Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Now, as Kathryn mentioned, they are using this picture, from an event in California yesterday, to make the same point:
Cheap shots, aside, there is a legitimate question here. Even given the wonders of modern communications which allow him to stay in touch with virtually everyone virtually all the time, does the president really need to spend five weeks of the summer based at his home in Crawford? What would be wrong with a two-week vacation? After all, he goes to Crawford at other times of the year, and, of course, he can spend all the time he wants there when he is no longer president.
According to a White House pool report, press secretary Scott McClellan was asked today whether, given the events of August, the president needs a vacation after his vacation. McClellan said, “This is not what you would call a vacation. This is the president’s home. He always enjoys coming here. But when you’re president, you’re president 24/7.” That last part is certainly true, but while he is president, shouldn’t George W. Bush spend more time at the White House?
This month began with the deaths of 21 U.S. Marines in Iraq, continued through the Cindy Sheehan protest/media circus, and ended with Hurricane Katrina. There is no doubt that, if only from a political and communications perspective, the president would have been in a better position to deal with those issues if he had been based in Washington for much of the month. For one thing, he would have had the stage to himself, given the traditional absence of Congress. For another, he would have been better placed to make those more substantive comments about the war that David Frum and others have called on him to make. And lastly, his message would not have been subject to the distractions of all the vacation/nonvacation talk that inevitably comes up when he spends an extended period of time in Crawford.
There is a proper time for a president to leave Washington, but five weeks is just too much.