I walked over to the White House Tuesday night and leaned against the fence. How can such a lovely house make so many of its inhabitants nuts?
There was no U-Haul in the driveway. I don't know if W. was inside talking to the portraits on the wall. Or if the portraits can vanish from their frames, as at Hogwarts Academy, to escape if W. is pestering them about his legacy.
The Obama girls, with their oodles of charm, will soon be moving in with some fetching puppy, and they seem like the kind of kids who could have fun there, prowling around with their history-loving father.
Make it pristine again
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I had been amazed during the campaign by the overt willingness of some people who didn't mind being quoted by name saying vile stuff, that a President Obama would turn the Rose Garden into a watermelon patch, that he'd have barbecues on the front lawn, that he'd make the White House the Black House.
Actually, the elegant and disciplined Obama, who is not descended from the central African-American experience but who has nonetheless embraced it and been embraced by it, has the chance to make the White House pristine again.
The capital's ghosts
I grew up here, and I love all the monuments filled with the capital's ghosts. But the monuments have lost their luminescence in recent years.
How could the White House be classy when the Clintons were turning it into Motel 1600 for fundraising?
How could the White House be inspiring when W. and Cheney were inside making torture and domestic spying legal, fooling Americans by cooking up warped evidence for war ?
How could the Lincoln Memorial — “With malice toward none; with charity for all” — be as moving if the black neighborhoods of a charming American city were left to drown while the president mountain-biked?
How can the National Archives, home of the Constitution, be as momentous if the president and vice president spend their days redacting the Constitution?
How can the black marble V of the Vietnam Memorial have power when those in power repeat the mistake of Vietnam?
His own monument?
How can the FDR Memorial along the Tidal Basin be an uplifting trip to the past when the bronze statue of five stooped men in a bread line and the words of FDR's second inaugural – “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished” – evokes the depressing present?
Obama may be in over his head. Or he may be heading for his own monument one day.
His somber speech in the dark Chicago night was stark and simple and showed that he sees what he's up against. There was a heaviness in his demeanor, as if he already had taken on the isolation and “splendid misery,” as Jefferson called it, of the office he'd won only moments before. Americans all over the place were jumping for joy, including the block I had been on in front of the White House.
In the midst of such a phenomenal, fizzy victory overcoming so many doubts and attacks and even his own middle name, Obama stood alone.
He rejected the Democratic kumbaya moment of having your broad coalition on stage with you, as he talked about how everyone would have to pull together and “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”
He professed “humility,” but we'd heard that before from W., and look what happened there.
Promising to also be president for those who opposed him, Obama quoted Lincoln, his political idol and the man who ended slavery: “We are not enemies, but friends – though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”
There have been many awful mistakes made in this country. But now we have another chance.
As we start fresh with a constitutional law professor and senator from the Land of Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial might get its gleam back.
I may have to celebrate by going over there and climbing up into Abe's lap. It's a $50 fine. But it'd be worth it.