The readers write, and what a lot of them are writing these days is this: We should stop referring to a certain 1,600-acre parcel of land in Texas as a "ranch."
From the beginning, the presidential-getaway-as-ranch has been a construct, a way to make a millionaire from Yale look like some kind of workaday cowpoke. Just before Bush left Washington for his latest vacation, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the trips to Crawford give the president time to "shed the coat and tie and meet with folks out in the heartland and hear what's on their minds."
It's not clear how many heartland folks Bush is hearing as he roars through Crawford in a motorcade of air-conditioned SUVs. And it's not like the locals are welcome to cross the Secret Service barricades and hang out with him back at the former pig farm he calls home. As the Christian Science Monitor noted a few years back, the Bush property is located seven miles outside of Crawford, and you can't see much of it even if you make the trek out: "Orange signs posted along the narrow road warn 'No Stopping,' 'No Standing,' 'No Parking,' and when people do try to stop, there's not much to see except a pop-up security barrier at the gate."
We haven't been on the land ourselves, of course, but we hear tell that Bush isn't exactly roughing it when he's there. There's a 10,000-square-foot house built of limestone and an 11-acre manmade pond stocked with bass and other fish for the president's amusement. There's nothing wrong with that; we think the president is entitled to whatever creature comforts he can afford. And if that means he's got himself a "haven" down in Texas, as Laura Bush says, that's fine with us -- even if it sounds a little more Martha S. than George W.
You won't catch the president and his image-makers calling the Crawford property a "haven," however. It's always a ranch for them, even if it isn't. Our dictionary defines "ranch" as either "an establishment for the grazing and rearing of horses, cattle, or sheep that usually includes the buildings occupied by the owner and employees with the adjacent barns and corrals" or "a farm of any size usually devoted to the raising of one particular specialty." The president isn't rearing a lot of horses, cattle or sheep down at Crawford. So unless a fabricated political image counts as "one particular specialty," the president's estate doesn't fit the definition of a "ranch." We won't be calling it one anymore.