This article is a slightly edited version of a column that first ran Dec. 30, 2013.
Every year around Christmas, I think about George W. Bush.
It was during Christmas week each year for the eight that I covered him as a reporter that he gave me a spectacular gift — and he knew it.
I started covering the newly-elected president in 2000, when I was in my late 30s. Back then, as a reporter for The Washington Times, we went everywhere the president went. If he went to Charlotte, North Carolina, to give a 30-minute speech on an airport tarmac, we went. Up at 4 a.m., an hourlong commute to Andrews Air Force Base, in place on the ground hours before POTUS landed, and there for hours and hours after he left — sometimes right through the evening news so network reporters could file live from the site.
We also went with the president to Texas every summer — often for a month — and every winter, too, over the holidays.
But here’s the thing: In December, we never left Washington, D.C., until the day after Christmas. Never. Mr. Bush and his wife Laura would always depart the White House a few days before the holiday and hunker down at the presidential retreat in Maryland, Camp David. After a few years, I asked a White House staffer why.
I still remember what she said: “So all of us can be with our families on Christmas.”
Who was “us”? Hundreds and hundreds of people, that’s who. Sure, the reporters who covered the president, but also dozens and dozens on his staff, a hundred Secret Service agents, maybe more, and all those cops required whenever the president’s on the move in D.C.
For me, that one-day delay was huge. My children were 6 and 8 when Mr. Bush took office. When he went home to Prairie Chapel that last time in 2009, my girl was driving and my boy was 6-foot-1. But in the meantime, I was home for eight Christmas mornings, playing Santa, stoking the fire, mixing up hot chocolate.
That was Mr. Bush. And every year since, I’ve thought about what that meant to me. (By the way, some years, I got holiday duty, which meant I was off to Waco, Texas, the day after Christmas. But once again, the Bush White House had us covered: A press plane flew out with the president, and back then, reporters could pay $100 per family member for the plane ride. So sometimes, the family went along. For the children, it was an adventure; for me, well, we were all together).
All that changed with President Barack Obama. No more press plane, for one. Reporters were on their own — so taking family was, say, $1,000 a pop. Not likely. And Mr. Obama would never delay his trip to his island getaway, taking off every year well before Christmas. Hundreds and hundreds headed off with him, leaving their families behind.
No Christmas at home. Instead, the Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. Nice, but not exactly home.
Anyway, that’s why I think of George W. Bush every year in the week around Christmas week. Probably will until I die. Thanks, GWB.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.
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