We've always seen the president's propensity for taking long vacations at Crawford as some kind of political liability -- especially when troops are getting killed in Iraq or, say, he's getting a warning about Osama bin Laden's plans to attack the United States and responds by going fishing for bass in a pond on his ranch.
But today's Wall Street Journal suggests we may be wrong. A press corps stuck in Crawford and a slow summer news cycle "are allowing President Bush to use the Crawford backdrop to push his agenda, far from the distractions of Washington," the Journal says. The paper notes that Bush has used his time at Crawford so far to tout CAFTA, the energy bill, the transportation bill and progress on the economy and that he'll get a chance to look presidential Thursday when his secretary of defense and secretary of state pay a visit to the ranch.
Now, a cynic might say -- as the New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller did last week -- that the president is working as hard as he is during the first part of his five-week vacation in Crawford in order to give the appearance of being in "purposeful motion" on the anniversary of the Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing that warned him that bin Laden was "determined" to strike in the United States. But the Journal says it's something else: Bush "badly needs" some help with his dismal approval ratings, and commandeering the political agenda -- without any of those pesky Democrats around -- gives him a chance to get a little boost.
The problem for Bush: Cindy Sheehan has also discovered the power of Crawford. Sheehan has been speaking out about Iraq for some time now, but she didn't receive the kind of attention she's getting now until she set up camp outside Bush's ranch. As they've played out in front of a whole lot of reporters with not much else to do, Sheehan's attempts to see the president are capturing far more press coverage than they would have if she had pitched a tent in Washington's Lafayette Park. Her P.R. successes could "start a trend" among protesters of every stripe, the Journal notes, and the president's Crawford getaways could soon become a lot less pleasant, both personally and professionally.