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Bush uses discipline, routine to keep his time manageable

Observers contrast president's even pace with frenetic Clinton

March 04, 2001|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

But as presidents go, Bush's style appears to be more the exception than the rule in the modern political era. "Most presidents have been workaholics by nature," says Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at the University of Texas.

Buchanan says Bush's CEO-like style of delegating heavily and keeping his own schedule tight and streamlined is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan, a defiantly 9-to-5 president who once quipped that "hard work never killed anybody, but I say, why take the chance?"

Similarly, Bush makes no apologies for his penchant for exercise and rest, and, in fact, seems to take pride in his ability to continue his usual routine.

"He's trying to convey he can ride the bicycle with no hands," says Buchanan. "That breezy self-confidence is part of the public relations."

So far, it has worked. The public seems to have accepted Bush's relatively easygoing schedule, as it did Reagan's. Buchanan believes the public will only start complaining if it begins to sense Bush is unprepared or that someone else is running the show.

Bush got away with a relatively light schedule in Texas, one that sometimes included a break for video games in the middle of the day, because there was never any major crisis that required his sustained attention, says Buchanan.

Sooner or later, however, President Bush will confront a crisis "he can't just walk away from because it's 5 o'clock," Buchanan says. "And then he will be tested in a way that he wasn't as governor."

In Texas, aides say, Bush worked from about 8 to 11 in the morning, took two hours off for a run and lunch, worked from 1 until 5 and then went home.

He often went to dinner with friends - for social, not working, meals - or had guests over to the governor's mansion. And, just as now, he always tried to be in bed by 10. "It got to be 10, he'd say, `Gotta run y'all outta here,'" says Smith, his former legislative director.

Smith says there is good reason for the strictly enforced bedtime. "We could tell if he hadn't gotten eight hours of sleep. He wasn't as sharp. He'd be in a press conference, and it was clear he wasn't thinking as quickly. It affects his quickness."

Clinton, by contrast, prided himself on getting by with four hours of sleep a night, or less.

In fact, in the final days of his administration, as he was trying to savor every last moment of his presidency, he rarely slept at all.

But Clinton's endless days may not have been so well-advised. Newsweek reported recently that Clinton's much-criticized decision to grant a pardon to fugitive financier Marc Rich was made after days with no sleep and that the former president confided to a friend: "Every important mistake I've made in my life, I've made because I was too tired."

Bush's personality - in contrast to Clinton's - has also revealed itself in a White House culture where discipline and organization are deeply cherished, yet tinged with a folksy informality.

While not imposing a dress code, Bush suggested to men that they wear ties in the Oval Office. And chief of staff Andrew Card has declared that jeans are not appropriate attire for the West Wing.

But this president does not appear to be as deferential as Ronald Reagan.

He was so respectful of the White House he wouldn't take his jacket off in the Oval Office even in the heat of a Washington summer.

But Bush couldn't resist wearing his cowboy hat there one recent Saturday morning.

Bush's laid-back style and front-loaded workday, one that starts early and ends early, have not necessarily trickled down to the staff level, however.

Although he has reportedly encouraged several high-ranking women on his staff to make sure they leave early enough to spend time with their children - and Card has told the staff to resist becoming consumed by their jobs - many senior officials, including Card, are still working the protracted hours that generally come with a White House job.

As Texas governor, Bush was said to have had no problem leaving an office full of people and activity when he packed up his briefcase for the evening, even during the legislative session, when aides such as Smith often worked from 6:30 in the morning till 1 or 2 a.m.

"It never bothered him I was working those hours," says Smith with a chuckle.

That is, unless Smith woke up the governor with news about a vote that had just taken place or a bill that had moved out of committee, matters that could, in Bush's eyes, easily wait till the morning.

"I did learn," says Smith, "not to call him at midnight."

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