CRAWFORD, Texas -- For two centuries, the White House in Washington has been the great destination and golden prize of American politics.
But having scrambled to the top, many presidents can't seem to wait to tell people they have stumbled into a gilded prison, a sealed bubble, a distorted mirror, a corrupting place of gossip, rumor, backbiting, and, of all things, hardball politics.
"Like other presidents before and after me, I felt the need to get out of the White House and out of Washington in order to keep some sense of perspective," said one modern chief executive.
That may sound exactly like George W. Bush as he ambles around his 1,600-acre Texas ranch during his monthlong Texas vacation. But the words are actually those of Richard Nixon, who had more to say that also sounded just a little like Bush.
"I discovered how isolated from the reality of American life a president can feel in the White House," Nixon said.
Here's the current president on the same subject:
"To me, to be out on the land helps a president keep perspective. You know, I haven't been a president all that long, but I can assure you, perspective is important."
"It's the real world," Bush said of his home on the range. To this president, perspective and balance, another word he often uses, can be best obtained in the heartland. And to Bush, Texas is clearly the heart of the heartland.
"My house is in Texas; I'm a Texan," the president said one recent day. "This is where I was raised; this is where I'm going to retire; this is where I'll pass away, in Texas ..."
"Get used to it, because this is where I'm coming," he told those questioning the amount of time he spends away from the White House and at home in Texas.
On some days Bush calls the White House grounds a "compound" and makes his four-year presidential term seem like a prison sentence.
"I will serve my time in Washington, and I will return back to Texas," he told an audience in Albuquerque, N.M., last week. "It's important never to forget where you came from."
So the Texan president looked a bit crestfallen when he asked a group of second graders in an Albuquerque classroom just where his home was.
"Washington D.C.," they replied in a shout.
"I'm from one state east of here," Bush prompted and asked again where he was from.
"Washington D.C.," they shouted anew, perhaps not an unreasonable response when dealing with a man who has the White House and the executive branch of the government in Washington at his disposal.
When pressed, Bush explains that what he objects to most is the furious nature of Washington politics.
"In Washington, it's a lot more partisan; people there just like to dig in and fight," he said one morning.
Actually, that's not as harsh a criticism of Washington and the presidency as that once delivered by another Texan president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Being president in a Washington crisis, Johnson once said, "is like a jackass standing alone in the middle of a field in a driving hailstorm. There's nothing he can do but stand there and take it."
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