Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The President's Desk

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, I ran across a compelling analysis of Slate’s Bushism of the Day. I cannot help but offer a few comments (which won’t make any sense until you click over to Volokh). I know this is off-topic for this blog, so please accept my apologies in advance.

1. I have always marveled at the Bushism feature in Slate. Slate’s motive is to say “Look at how inarticulate George Bush is.” But even before I had ever met George Bush and become one of his economic advisers, I had the opposite reaction to these items. I always interpreted them as “Look how sophomoric and condescending we editors at Slate are.” I suppose that sophomoric and condescending are in the eye of the beholder. People who seem sophomoric and condescending to me often see themselves as very clever.

2. During my time in the White House, I heard George Bush tell the story of the desk several times. It is one of his staples. There is, I think, a simple explanation: When people come into the Oval Office and meet the President of the United States for the first time, they are terrified. I know I was. So the President tries to put them at ease with small talk. Hence, the story of the desk and John-John Kennedy’s crawling under it. The subtext: “Yes, this is an awesome place, and I am as awed by it as you are, but the occupants here are real people with real kids doing real things, just like you and me.”

3. The last time I heard the President tell the story of the desk was when I visited the Oval Office with my wife and three kids for an “exit interview.” I was returning to Harvard after my two years of leave. The visit was a mere formality, but a nice one for me and my family. The President, as usual, tried to make his guests feel comfortable. He asked my kids about their school. We chatted about our new dog. And then the President told the story of the desk. Although I had heard it before, it was new to my wife and kids. Immediately, my six-year-old son Peter decided to reenact the event. Like John-John, he got on the floor and started crawling under the desk, trying to peak out the front. The President informed us that the front panel no longer opened, so a full reenactment was not possible. My wife was mortified that Peter made himself so comfortable so quickly. The President appeared amused.