Hello From The U.S. Of Type A

George W. Bush and I have been on vacation at the same time, both of us in small towns shimmering in the heat, full of corn fields and, at least in my case, lumbering rodents with powerful suicidal impulses stiffening on the road shoulder. It's a working vacation, and if you don't believe that, just take a look at the bottom of the cellar stairs and that pile of dirty clothes that came home from camp in the duffel bags.

The president's vacation is a working vacation, too. He bloodied his finger putting in an hour for Habitat for Humanity, went to New Mexico for the first day of school and gave a nationally televised speech on stem-cell research while the world's biggest flies divebombed the window behind him, distracting the American people. He also had a cheeseburger and onion rings at the Coffee Station, a place near his Texas ranch, with a group of preselected local corn growers. "I'm not sharing with any of you," he told them.

This is what the president of the United States is supposed to do. Keep people from picking off your plate. Take some time to think big thoughts. Give back to your community. The president sets a certain tone. A friend of mine who is in a professional position to know says this even filters down to delusional thinking. He says that during the Clinton administration, a lot of the craziness about the president was psychosexual. Women claimed they were carrying his child. Some said they were actually his wife, proving that misery always can find company. But with George W. Bush in the White House, at least part time, all that has changed. The recurring belief among the clinically delusional about the president in this administration, according to my friend, is that he's actually a robot.

So maybe that's part of the point of "Home to the Heartland," which is what his spinmeisters are calling the monthlong Bush vacation, subtitled "To Hell With the Hamptons." There's nothing like a polo shirt and a tan to give lie to the notion that a guy's a closet cyborg. There's been a bit of an outcry about the length of time the president will take away from Washington, since one estimate has Mr. Bush spending more than 40 percent of his term so far on vacation. But while the president's guys are arguing on television about whether a rested president is a better president, and whether a vacation is really a vacation if you sign legislation while you're vacating, the man himself is missing a stupendous opportunity. Sure, he should take a month off. And he should give the American people a month off, too. A month of Sundays, he could call it, mindful of the religious right. The tax refunds are going to fade fast, particularly when Americans realize that budget cuts elsewhere, say in transportation, mean they'll be spending the money on tolls. But giving the people a vacation as big as his own could vault Bush's popularity into the stratosphere.

All evidence is that we need the time off. Study after study shows that Americans suffer everything from heartburn to herniated discs to headaches because they are plagued by job-related stress. In a recent survey entitled "Feeling Overworked: When Work Becomes Too Much," one in four Americans reported being incapable of even taking the vacation to which they were entitled. And a pretty paltry vacation it is, too, by worldwide standards. The European Working Time Directive provides for four weeks' paid leave a year, as well as a maximum 48-hour workweek. In France, workers are obliged by law to put in only 35 hours. No wonder the English newspaper The Guardian editorialized, "The US currently gives workers the stingiest holidays in the industrialized world."

Clearly Bill Clinton, a man whose idea of a good vacation is to reread de Tocqueville with zinc oxide on his nose, was not going to lead the way on this one. But George W. Bush can, and since Americans find it so hard to relax, and he finds it so easy, he should take an audacious position. The justices of the Supreme Court are already away in August, the members of Congress playing golf in their districts, the shrinks at the Cape. Mandate the closing of everything else in the country during the month. The liberals would love the energy savings, the lights off in office buildings, the fossil fuels unburned. Conservationists would be thrilled as national parks and forests revive without the tramp-tramp-tramp of millions of tourists. Health-care professionals would breathe a sigh of relief as Americans walked to the homes of friends, elevating their heart rates and, in the process, seeing people they've been meaning to get together with for ages.

Republicans could tout the family-values aspect of four weeks in which parents would be more or less forced to stay home and talk to their children. And talk about community activism! Instead of government programs or even nonprofit organizations taking meals to the homebound by van, ordinary Americans could find it in their hearts to carry a nice plate of pasta next door. Newspapers and news magazines would close, too, and television could run previously shown programs. (Whoops! I guess someone already took care of that one!) George W could mash his finger without any snide Gerald Ford comments, and he could take his vacation without any editorializing.

No press, no mail, no bills, no sweat. The stock market would have a much-needed timeout; so would Major League Baseball, especially those Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Sure, there would be opposition from conservatives who object to big government's interfering with the right to develop blocked arteries and sleep difficulties. But research on work habits, as well as observation of the typical American tourist ripping though a European cathedral in record time, suggest that there's a deep-seated inability to relax in the U.S. of Type A. Each president brings to the job his own ethos, his own character, his own karma. George W. Bush has it in him to become the Vacation President, to lead a grateful and very tired nation to a place in which its citizens can stop and smell the onion rings.