Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

POTUS on the Road: International and Domestic Presidential Travel, 1977-2005

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

POTUS on the Road: International and Domestic Presidential Travel, 1977-2005

Article excerpt

Presidents have forged some of the most enduring images of their administration while traveling around the country or across the world. One need look no further than Abraham Lincoln dedicating a cemetery to fallen Union soldiers in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in November 1863, or John E Kennedy in Berlin almost a hundred years later declaring his solidarity with the people of that embattled city, or George W. Bush speaking to rescue workers through a megaphone in New York City following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to see clearly the importance of travel in shaping the public's perception of a president. Many presidents have been at their best when speaking directly to the people and drawing on the energy of the crowds they addressed in moments that would become emblematic of their leadership.

A tremendous amount of effort goes into preparing for a presidential journey. An advance team lays the groundwork for each presidential trip, coordinating details that range from security to public relations. At least three helicopters--one bearing the president and two providing security and serving as decoys--usually ferry the president from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base, where he, and someday she, boards Air Force One. A large entourage accompanies the president, including support planes carrying personnel and military and communications equipment and cargo planes bearing armored vehicles, the president's limousine, and at times his helicopter, Marine One. On occasion, in the case of travel to dangerous overseas destinations, a decoy plane decorated to look like Air Force One often makes the journey as well. In short, moving the president and what has been called his mobile White House around the country and the world requires no small amount of investment of time, money, and political effort (Allen 2002; 2004; Babcock 1991; 1992; Milbank 2002; Nakashima 2000; Walsh 1977).

As a president's time is perhaps his scarcest resource, the strategic choices that determine its allocation are some of the most significant that a president and his aides will make. When and where a president chooses to travel, and what he does while he is there, can reveal a great deal about his priorities. This essay analyzes patterns of both international and domestic travel over the past five presidential administrations in order to provide the incoming president and his aides with information that will assist them as they decide when, where, and for what the next president should travel.

Researching Presidential Travel

This study covers a 28-year period from January 20, 1977, through January 20, 2005, encompassing five presidencies--those of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and the first term of George W. Bush. The analysis is drawn primarily from a data set of presidential events that I compiled through examination of the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, (1) which is the official record of the a president's public activities while in office. I am also grateful to Mark Knoller of CBS News and to the Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and William J. Clinton Presidential Libraries for generously providing information on the time that these presidents spent in their hometown or at a second home, on vacation, and at Camp David.

The data on international travel reflect the length of a presidential trip from the first to the last event abroad. As presidents sometimes, but not always, make remarks or hold a public event upon departing for or returning from an international trip, it is often impossible to determine from the Public Papers exactly when the president left and returned to the White House. As a result, the data presented here might understate the total length of some of these international journeys. This is not always the case, however, as presidents flying to and from the Western Hemisphere and Europe often hold their first public event abroad on the same day that they depart from the White House and frequently arrive home on the same day that they hold their last public event abroad. …

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