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The work-life balance for 'nation's CEO'

President Bush spends August on his Texas ranch, but some say his schedule should mirror hard-charging US.

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Since the start of his presidency, George W. Bush has taken heat for the perceived ease of his schedule: regular naps, two-hour breaks for exercise, and those long "working vacations" in Texas.

Even former Attorney General John Ashcroft - a serious loyalist - once quipped that the White House was committed to working "24/7 - 24 hours a week, seven months a year."

So as the president enters the home stretch of his five-week respite in Crawford, Texas, an old debate is being renewed: What's the proper work-life balance for a president? Is there a disconnect between American workers' ever-longer hours and the precise but compact schedule of the nation's CEO?

Renewing mind, body, spirit

Supporters say Bush brings a refreshing degree of proportionality to the many demands on his time. At the White House, he is early to bed, early to rise, and he runs meetings with West Point punctuality - habits in sharp contrast to his often tardy and workaholic predecessor, Bill Clinton.

The president brings the same sensibility to his ranch, renewing mind, body, and spirit with sweaty stints of brush clearing, mountain biking, and fishing - on top of speeches, fundraisers, intelligence briefings, and policy huddles with aides and officials.

"[Bush] reflects ... an exceptionally good work-life balance at the level he's at," says Jim Bird, CEO of WorkLifeBalance.com, a company based in Atlanta. "When I see [Bush] walking around on his ranch, I feel comforted that I'm in better hands than if he wasn't doing that."

Too much relaxation?

Critics, however, charge Bush with setting a bad example. A reported tally of his time in office shows he's spent as much as 20 percent of his days in Crawford. In fact, this Sunday, Bush passed Ronald Reagan for most days spent away from the Oval Office.

"We're the hardest-working people in the world, and we have a president who seems to not only be working bankers' hours, but taking French bankers' vacation," says Rick Shenkman, a presidential historian who wrote "Presidential Ambition: Gaining Power at Any Cost."

But Mr. Shenkman, who rates James Polk as the nation's hardest-working president and Warren Harding as its laziest, cautions that a true picture of Bush's work ethic won't be known until he leaves office. He cites the example of Mr. Reagan who was teased for keeping light office hours, and who once joked: "It's true, hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?" Later, scholars revised their estimate of Reagan's performance, when evidence emerged that he spent many evenings pouring through stacks of papers and digests.

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