Why George Bush Loves Europe

Is George Bush's anti-European rhetoric used to conceal that he is one of the most European U.S. presidents in history?

October 4, 2003

Is George Bush's anti-European rhetoric used to conceal that he is one of the most European U.S. presidents in history?

When he first came into office, George W. Bush was one of the least traveled among modern U.S. presidents.

Even quite a few of his predecessors who had lived in the days of the clipper ship — and did not have the advantages of jumbo jet travel — managed to get around a lot more.

This apparent lack of interest promptly showed itself in the policy of the Bush Administration. From the start, it took a dismissive line toward its Western European allies. Diplomacy consisted of telling them that Washington planned to do as it pleased on the world stage.

Things got worse when German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder chose to run his re-election campaign on a blatantly anti-Bush platform.

Finally, the ongoing transatlantic disagreement over the unilateralist policies of the United States in Iraq and elsewhere created a deep public rift between Berlin and Paris on the one hand — and Washington on the other.

Yet, with President Bush having spent three summers in office, it is becoming abundantly clear that all this bluster may have been a trick. More precisely, it was designed to conceal from his fellow-Americans that, at least in one aspect, Mr. Bush is the most Western European of U.S. Presidents.

What makes Mr. Bush so European? Why, it's his generous vacation schedule. Mr. Bush, like many French and Germans, likes to take the entire month of August off, usually spending it at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

His aides may describe these long stints in Texas as a "working holiday." But most of the time, he does what people on vacation tend to do everywhere — rest and relax.

In fact, in 2001 President Bush took the most vacations of any president in U.S. history. And in August of that year — just before the September 11 terrorist attacks — his lengthy stay in Crawford tied Richard Nixon's record as the longest time any president had spent away from the White House.

His is a very un-American approach to vacations. Americans on average take just 16 days of vacation per year. And there is no legally mandated minimum — which means that many Americans have no paid vacation at all.

Even more so, while President Bush does not appear worried that his long vacations may cost him his job, many Americans don't have that luxury.

A travel industry survey conducted in May 2003 found that 12% of Americans planned not to take a vacation during 2003. And 10% of respondents said they would take less vacation than they did in 2002.

The survey also revealed a sad fact about the psyche of American vacationers: Fully 20% of them actually felt guilty about taking a vacation.

In fact, it is a curious American fact of life that many employees do not take the full vacations they are entitled to — or longer vacations in one piece — for fear of being fired while gone. That explains why so many short vacations are popular.

On the other hand, Mr. Bush's vacation practices are very much in line with the way people do things in Europe. The French get 30 days of legally mandated vacations — and usually use them to the fullest.

In fact, Mr. Bush's predilection for spending August out of town dovetails nicely with what Parisians and Romans do every year — as any tourist can attest who ever visited those half-deserted cities in the summer.

Most Germans, likewise, manage to take off an average of 30 days — just like most other Europeans. That may explain why at almost any global tourist destination, you are likely to bump into some Germans.

Mr. Bush's example goes to show that, in a modern world —with information technology, the Internet and telecommunications have to offer — you no longer need to physically travel to foreign lands in order to emulate other nations' good habits.