The Bush team could use the break. They're bushed. Though it was often remarked in the early days of the administration, that this crew was defined by its 9 to 5 work ethic, much of the staff was never able to keep the president's banker's hours. Particularly worn down are the veterans from the campaign days. A lot of them started that effort more than three years ago. When that was supposed to be over, they had to face the 36 day Florida sprint. All the post-election vacations they'd been dreaming about were cancelled. The Tampa nightmare was followed by the hurry-up transition and a high-pressure first 100 days. Now, they're in a war the president tells them will last for years. There is a question about when any of them can get time off, says one Austin veteran about the his colleagues.
What has made the fatigue all the more acute is that before September 11th, the Bush team was just getting ready to lean back in the old soft chair. The president had taken his nearly one month vacation in August and a White House is never more relaxed than when the boss is out of town. Successful progress on several pieces of key legislation and a competent handling of the question of federal funding for stem cell research (they'd love such "hard" decisions like that now) had everyone feeling pretty good about finally knowing how to work the place.
In offices, the totems of West Wing stature started to arrive. Inauguration invitations in their many parts had been framed in elaborate borders. Most impressive of all were the Presidential Commissions that arrived in senior staff offices with their raised embossing and lots of big loopy writing. They look like Ivy League diplomas but the President's signature is unmistakable from across the room. Now, many of those totems still lean against office walls, un-hung. New mementos are now being collected by people like Chief of Staff Andy Card, who has laminated copies of every major paper from September 12th, the day after the attack.
No one is asking that a collection plate be passed around, and it is verboten in the White House to grumble in even a minor way. The responses are typical. "This is no different than what they went through in World War II," says spokesman Scott McLellan, one of the early joiners in the campaign effort. There are plenty of references to the men and women on the front lines overseas as well and the danger they face. But in a less public way, veterans concede that they're awfully tired. You won't get anyone to talk about it, but you also won't get any argument. "We feel like we haven't stopped for years, says one."
But as weary as some staffers may be there is at least one who has a sense of humor. Wednesday's party will feature a band called Nailing Jello. When someone who plans to attend heard the name he quipped: "Are they trying to remind us of how hard it is to fight the Taliban?"