Presidential Rest & Relaxation: Mission Improbable

Article excerpt

CALVIN COOLIDGE used to wear white kid gloves while fishing. Lyndon Baines Johnson enjoyed goading reporters into chasing pigs. Richard Nixon would spend a beautiful Florida day inside, discussing Laos - then stroll the beach wearing a business suit and tie.

Watch out, America. It's time for another presidential vacation. They're not always a pretty sight.

Sure, Bill Clinton says he's tired and needs a rest. But as a rule, US chief executives make poor vacationers. Think about it: One needs ferocious drive to survive the American electoral process. It's hard to turn that off and sit by the pool at the Sonesta Beach Hotel.

Generations of White House staffers might echo the lament of Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, from his diary entry of May 15, 1970:"In Key Biscayne. The unwinding process is not succeeding."

Modern presidents tend to fall into two vacation categories. The first is Stiff Guy Who Can't Stop Working (Carter, Nixon, Hoover, Coolidge, etc). The second is Energetic Guy Who Turns Play Into Work (think Bush and his patented game of speed golf, Kennedy and NFL-style touch football).

Then there's Ronald Reagan. Perhaps alone among recent Oval Office occupants, Reagan appeared to know how to enjoy time off. He spent, in total, nearly an entire year of his presidency at his ranch in the Santa Ynez Mountains northwest of Santa Barbara, and by all accounts Laos - or its '80s equivalent - was never mentioned.

Advisor Michael Deaver once tried to get Reagan to spend less time on vacation. "Look Mike, you can tell me to do a lot of things, but you're not going to tell me when to go to the ranch," Reagan replied, according to biographer Lou Cannon.

Whether Mr. Clinton is in Reagan's league when it comes to relaxation is yet to be determined. There are positive signs. When reporters asked his first vacation goal, he said "I'm going to lie down." He has taken a stack of books to read on his two-week stay at Sen. Jay Rockefeller's house near the mountain resort of Jackson Hole.

Remember, however, that this is a man who has long spent his New Year's break at Renaissance Weekends, discussing the fine points of welfare policy. Quick, what's the most likely dinner-table topic this week at the Mountain White House: the O. …