Bush uses discipline, routine to keep his time manageable

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON - He's up early, feeding the pets and bringing a cup of coffee to his wife. By 7:30 he's in the office for early-morning meetings and phone calls. A midday workout or run - he doesn't want his 7 1/2 -minute mile to slip - is not debatable.

There will be lunch, several more hours of solid work, a social event or quiet evening at home after dinner, maybe swatting tennis balls outside for his springer spaniel, Spot, to fetch. Bed is generally no later than 10. If guests are over, they're politely nudged to the door. Eight hours of sleep is also inviolable.

A creature of habit and routines, George W. Bush has settled into a comfortable, well-paced schedule in his new job and new home, frequently packing the awesome pressures and duties of the presidency into an eight-hour day and continuing the enviably balanced life he seems determined to maintain.

It is a life in which time is carved out for bench presses, naps, weekends away with the family, where work is work and play is play and, come bombings or Boy Scout photo ops, there will be time for both.

"That's the life we all ought to live," says Terral Smith, who served as Bush's legislative director in Texas.

The relaxed lifestyle and disciplined work habits that Bush has exhibited in the early days of his presidency contrast sharply with former President Bill Clinton's marathon days, where bags under the eyes were seen as a badge of honor.

Clinton was so often late for events and appointments that reporters covering him joked that he followed CST, or Clinton Standard Time, but Bush is obsessively punctual. Meetings do not spill over into the next one. Discussions are brief and to the point. He has even arrived a minute or two early to some events, and once felt the need to explain to reporters why he was three minutes late.

"He's a fanatic about being on time," says Mark McKinnon, a Bush adviser who produced the president's campaign ads. "His view is that it's rude if you're not on time."

In his first six weeks in office, with no great crisis to absorb him, Bush has kept to a public schedule and private lifestyle that are controlled and even low-key. So far, on days he has traveled outside Washington, he has often returned by midafternoon.

"We figured if it had been Clinton, we would have had one more event later in the day," says CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, who has covered both presidents. "It's a little less frenzied."

While Clinton used Camp David sparingly, Bush has spent four of the six weekends since his inauguration there, including this one, and took another weekend off to return to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, outside Waco.

On that trip, though, he first flew across the border to spend a few hours with Mexican President Vicente Fox.

"It's a good place to relax, and it's also a good place to catch up on my work," he said of Camp David on Friday, shortly before his midafternoon departure for the presidential retreat. "Every chance I get to go, if I'm not going to Crawford, and I don't have to give a speech here on the weekend, I'm going to go to Camp David."

Bush makes no secret of his desire to pace himself. Indeed, one Sunday last month, Bush traveled to a retreat of House Democrats in Farmington, Pa., saying as he entered that he planned to answer a few questions, then "head home and take a nap."

A few days later, when a gunman fired shots outside the White House at 11:30 a.m. - prime time for most of the working world - Vice President Dick Cheney was in his West Wing office while the president, it turned out, was in the White House residence exercising.

Again a week ago, Bush announced at his Camp David press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he was headed straight from that event to the gym.

But the image of a president taking a snooze or clocking his mph on the treadmill while the West Wing hums with activity and the woes of the world may be misleading.

Aides, past and present, say his compact, well-rounded day is a sign of efficiency.

In meetings with Bush, for instance, participants are expected to state their opinions or proposals clearly, without "a lot of navel gazing," says McKinnon.

"I bet he gets more done in eight or 10 hours than other people do in 20," says the Bush adviser.

And the new president has engaged in enough official activity in his first weeks in office to dispel any notion of idleness.

Since becoming president, Bush has met with more than 200 members of Congress, singly and in groups, unveiled proposals on such issues as education reform and faith-based programs, journeyed to nearly a dozen states as well as Mexico, met with several foreign leaders, was host of a National Governors' Association dinner and meeting, held two news conferences, promoted his $1.6 trillion tax cut plan in a televised prime-time address to Congress, sent his budget blueprint to Capitol Hill and, of course, continued staffing his administration.

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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