Vacationing Politicians: The Cameras Are on, the Shirts Are off

Where world leaders go on vacation can be important. President Bush likes to look manly and Western on his ranch in Crawford, Texas, clearing brush and even breaking out the occasional chainsaw.

After former President Bill Clinton's pollster advised him that the American people preferred their presidents vacationing in a national park over mixing with the hoi polloi in Martha's Vineyard, the Clintons visited Jackson Hole, Wyo., near Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in 1995 and 1996.

So when Russian President Vladimir Putin took his vacation in the Siberian mountain region of Tuva this week, he knew all of Russia was watching. And with the help of the media, the Russian people watched Putin ride a motorboat … skip stones … ride horseback … drive an SUV … go rafting … and -- most notably -- go fishing sans shirt, flexing with his rod and reel and strutting before the cameras.

Click here for more photos.

While the former KGB chief is known for flexing muscle, to some this seemed a little much.

But such a naked display of virility is not unprecedented. Benito Mussolini would give speeches sans shirt, and once even skiied topless.

In the summer of 1966, Mao Tse-Tung staged his best-known political theater, a swim in the Yangtze River, showing the world that the aging dictator was in robust health.

Since then, we've seen flashes of political skin on occasion, usually for a reason.

Assuring everyone that everything was under control, in his typical over-the-top style -- while also keeping some details of his operation a secret -- President Lyndon Johnson showed off his gall bladder surgery scar.

And showing his vigor despite his advanced age, President Reagan would pop up here and there in swim trunks. President Clinton did the same in 1993.

But would-be president Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., isn't sure shirtless is the right image for him. Obama claimed his swimsuit shot was an invasion of privacy, and berated the media for "reporting on how I look in a swimsuit" instead of covering his policy positions.

Of course, controlling your image is easier when you control the press. On Wednesday, the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda published the Putin photo on its front-page with the headline "Be Like Putin," complete with an exercise regimen. (CLICK HERE to see how the tabloid recommends a body like Vlad's.)

Some thought the photos unbecoming, but female callers to Russian radio shows and visitors to gay Internet chat rooms liked the pix of Putin's pecs.

Either way, we should just be grateful that Putin's predecessor -- the rotund Boris Yeltsin -- opted to show the world his virility by partying, not stripping.