President of Leisure

The Nation

Often, when an executive faces lingering questions about his skills, he works extra hard to make sure that every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed.

Not so George W. Bush.

Indeed, if the “CEO of the USA” who is currently enjoying a five-week sojourn at his ranch in Texas keeps vacationing at the same rate, he will have spent the better part of two years of his presidency away from work.

Bush achieved a leisure landmark this month. The previous record for presidential slacking-off was 335 days. On August 18, Bush surpassed that number of days off, and he still has more than three years left in his second term.

Britain’s Financial Times newspaper has dubbed Bush “the best-rested president in U.S. history.”

That’s a dubious distinction for a man who is not known for his attention to detail. Critics have not hesitated to suggest that the President’s rest-ethic has cost the country dearly–after all, it was in August 2001, during the President’s first extended stay in Crawford, that a briefing paper crossed Bush’s desk detailing Osama bin Laden’s intention to launch terrorist attacks within the United States. Instead of putting the country on high alert, the President put the report aside and continued relaxing–returning to Washington only a few days before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

While Bush may not be very good at managing major endeavors–he ran four corporations into the ground and then took a make-work job as a baseball team executive before finally turning to the family business of politics–the President is no slacker when it comes to rest and relaxation.

Now, if only he’d help the rest of us to get a break.

While Bush has been taking almost one week out of every month off since assuming the presidency, a substantial proportion of Americans are lucky if they get one week a year of paid vacation. And millions of workers get no compensated time off.

The United States, unlike other industrialized countries, fails to set a base standard for paid holidays. European countries have long required corporations to provide workers with three, four or even five weeks of paid vacation time. “Even developing countries often force companies to allow employees some time to recharge their batteries,” the Financial Times notes. “El Salvador, Indonesia and Mongolia have all established a minimum of 10 to 15 days paid leave a year.”

That’s hardly a break at all when compared with Bush’s annual average of almost ten weeks of vacation. But its a good deal more than most American workers will ever enjoy under the current system. Indeed, Americans are now working almost 500 more hours a year than their Dutch counterparts and thirty-seven hours–almost a full week–more than the average worker in the famously overworked country of Japan.

That’s a radical reversal of the circumstance that existed in the 1950s and early ’60s, when the Japanese and the Europeans worked more hours than Americans–and when Americans enjoyed greater prosperity and, if polls are to be believed, a greater sense of satisfaction with their lives.

Is it any wonder that Americans now complain that they have less time to spend with their families, less time for volunteering in their communities and less time for recreation and physical fitness than at any point in history? How appropriate then that, when reflecting on Bush’s time-off record, economist Phineas Baxandall, of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, observed that “George Bush is one of the few Americans who has time for family values.”

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