The vacationer-in-chief

Recently Trent Lott, the Senate Republican whip, ominously advised his colleagues as they were debating terrorism issues that now was a good time to get out of Washington.

“I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th,” he said, and then quickly left on vacation.

He didn’t say why the 12th particularly, but there’s nothing like an unspecified terrorist threat to make those of us who live here start thinking about our own vacations, even though August is an improbable time for a terrorist attack.

There’s almost nobody here and nothing going on. We wouldn’t notice anything amiss until we returned, say around the 12th, and found the Washington Monument missing.

Still, we were heartened by our leaders’ willingness to abandon us to our fate. Also leaving town was President Bush, but he is gone every August, sometimes longer. In 2005, he was gone for five weeks. The president doesn’t need Lott to remind him of the seductive joys of cutting brush that await him in Crawford, Texas.

However you feel about George W. Bush, he is on track to go down in history as our most-well-rested president. According to CBS radio sage Mark Knoller, as of last week, Bush had tallied 418 days of vacation in his six and a half years in office, and he is a cinch to overtake the record 436 days of downtime set by Ronald Reagan.

There’s nothing wrong with this. The president should be an example to the rest of us because Americans don’t take enough vacation. It shouldn’t require the threat of being blown up by terrorists to make us take a little time off.

Americans take less vacation than workers in any other industrial nation. The league-leading Italians take 43 days; the French, 37; the supposedly uptight Germans, 35. We take 13 lousy days. Even the workaholic Japanese knock off for 25.

Thanks to the loonie’s appreciation against the dollar, the Canadians are taking some of their 26 days in U.S. resorts that should be filled by us. But, no, we’re too busy working.

And the problem is getting worse.

According to the sniper-eyed trend spotters at The Wall Street Journal, “The leisurely summer vacation — long considered a chance for employees to break away from work for at least a full week, if not two — has fallen out of favor.” People, one week, even two weeks is not “leisurely.” Getting out of town on Memorial Day and coming back on Labor Day is leisurely.

The Journal cites travel-industry figures showing that 35 percent of employed U.S. adults are not taking all the vacation days they’re entitled to. Only 14 percent of employed adults plan to take off for a full two weeks.

Nobody’s so important he or she can’t take two weeks or more off, not when the Italians are racking up six weeks. If the leader of the free world can head off for just under a month in Crawford, so can we all. (Well, maybe not Crawford, but somewhere nice.)

Bush has experimented with various roles by which he wants to be remembered — the war president, the education president, the reformer president. None has really fit — until now. He can lead us into leisure and go down in history as the vacation president. I think we’re talking legacy here.