Is the President Taking Too Much Time Off?

President Bush is on pace to spend more time on vacation than any other president in modern times.

Today is the 342nd day he has spent at least some part of the day at his ranch, which means he's spent almost an entire year of his four and a half years in office at the ranch. That doesn't include time he's spent at his parents' place in Kennebunkport, Maine, or at Camp David.

If he stays at his Texas ranch until Sept. 3, as expected, the five-week stint away from the White House -- the 49th vacation he's taken at the ranch -- will surpass President Nixon's monthlong trip to Florida 36 years ago as the longest presidential retreat in the modern era.

Bush isn't the first president to take a lot of time off. His father, President George H.W. Bush, spent 153 days in Maine and 390 at Camp David; Dwight Eisenhower spent 222 days for 29 golf outings in Augusta, Ga., during his eight years in office; Harry Truman spent 175 days in Key West, Fla., over seven years; and Ronald Reagan famously loved his vacations, spending all or part of 335 days during his eight-year presidency at his Santa Barbara, Calif., ranch

The way Bush is going, he will surpass them all.

The White House has said the vacations "clear his mind," "it allows him to get back in touch with real America" and "he's earned it."

But with the average American receiving just two weeks off a year, are the president's lengthy vacations justified?

Rachel Maddow, a liberal radio show host who has her own show on Air America, and Joe Watkins, a conservative commentator who worked in the White House of the first President Bush, debated Bush's vacations today on "Good Morning America."

Vacation or Not?

Watkins: "I don't know any American that would say this is a vacation -- meeting with world leaders, being briefed every day, giving major speeches, signing legislation, traveling to other states. I mean, this is a busy guy. His vacation sounds like work, and it is."

Maddow: "The White House has gone to great lengths to make us all think that the Crawford ranch is a little White House, but it is really not. I mean, listen to the president himself talk about it. He says, 'I'm going fishing with my man, Barney. I'm taking a nap. I'm reading Elmore Leonard.' There are pictures of him fishing, clearing the brush and doing all this stuff. Meanwhile, the mothers of soldiers killed in Iraq are literally camped in a ditch outside his house waiting to meet with him, 68 soldiers died in Iraq since he has been there, the economy is in shambles, we have the biggest budget deficit, we have two wars going on … I find it embarrassing as an American."

Working Hard Enough?

Maddow: "If I had an employee who came to me and asked to take one in every five days off, I would fire that employee. It is just embarrassing that the president needs to take this much time off. It may help him, but I think that he needs to be working harder."

Watkins: "You have to remember that wherever the president is, is where the Oval Office is. He never leaves his job. If a doctor is on-call 24 hours a day, certainly the president of the United States is on call 24 hours a day. He never stops being president."

Getting in Touch With Real America?

Watkins: "It gives him a chance to reconnect with Americans. I think it is a wonderfully refreshing thing for him to get a chance to go back to Texas and spend time with Americans from the heartland."

Maddow: "Have you seen him out there with his neighbors cutting brush? No. It is him and the press corps and Condi."

Final Words

Watkins: "I spent time around him. He is a joy to be around. He is a hard-working guy. You know, the presidency is the toughest job in the world. He deserves to have an hour or two doing a little bit of what he wants to do."

Maddow: "He never works past 5 p.m. He doesn't work weekends. Does he need that much time to be sharp? How much sharper can he get?"