The President As Day Person

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In its entry on the subject of sleep, the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics declares: "Animals regularly fall asleep if deprived of their usual sensual stimuli, and so do men of low mental capacity."

That's what they're getting at when they mock George W. Bush for going to bed at 10 o'clock — low mental capacity, meaning a certain Republican dullness. It's an almost subliminal lifestyle point. Bill Clinton stayed up half the night, policy-wonking. Bush is a Rotarian snore.

This invidious thought needs examination. What does history tell us? Do good presidents stay up late? Or do they hit the sack like farmers, a little after dark, and get up with the roosters? What are the sleeping habits of effective leaders?

Winston Churchill, as we know, stayed up late in order to drink brandy and smoke cigars. In the morning when he came to, he would breakfast on a whisky and water, and then work in bed for hours. He was perhaps the exception proving Henry Luce's rule that no man who stays in bed after nine a.m. will ever amount to anything.

George W. Bush's early-to-bed routine began no doubt at the same time as his sobriety. The recovering drinker needs to give his life an architecture of clarity, of regularity, of sturdy daylight. He forswears the exhausting and hallucinatory nighttime, the theater of his former misadventures, the time that used to get him into trouble.

Lyndon Johnson adopted an interestingly amphibious approach to day and night. He stayed up late, to drink Scotch, or to choose bombing targets for missions over North Vietnam. Next day after lunch he would act as if it were bedtime. He would yawn, put on his pajamas, get into bed, and go to sleep. When he awoke, his body, much refreshed, thought it was time to start another day. Greedy Lyndon lived two days in the space of one. Guns and butter.

Ernest Hemingway also managed a certain amphibianism. He drank prodigiously at night, then had the discipline to rise in the morning and write for several hours before the sun crept toward the yardarm and it was time to drink again. The Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, a talented fanatic, would attend dinner parties until midnight, then go home and write until dawn. He died by ritual suicide in the midst of leading his private militia in a notably screwball coup attempt at a Japanese army headquarters.

Escapades like this prove that writers are bad role models for presidents or other public servants. I'm for the Bush approach. Presidents are our employees, and it is good policy to expect employees to get a decent night's sleep and to come to work on time.

The world is divided between night people and day people. I have been both. I follow the Bush schedule now, and go to bed as a rule between 10 and 11, in order to rise around dawn, to savor the blueish, pristine privacy of that hour, just coming out of sleep. There is still some of the drifting detritus of the unconscious, but the mind is clear and calm. The day has the dew on it.

If I were head of state, that would be just the right frame of mind in which to prepare to eat someone for breakfast, or to contemplate the truth that you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.