Sunday, September 8, 2013

Obama's Inconsiderate "Resolute-tions"

Much of the power of the Presidency resounds in projecting unarticulated messages through imagery, architecture  and history.  In the film The American President (1995), President Shepherd (Michael Douglas) told his chagrined lobbyist/love interest (Annette Benning):

You know that when the city planners sat down to design Washington, DC, their intention was to build a city that would intimidate and humble foreign heads of state... The White House has the single greatest home court advantage in the world. 

But it is not just the buildings nor the monuments of the Ellipse which speak volumes.  Sometimes even the furniture is fraught with meaning.

The desk which many Presidents have chosen to sit in the Oval Office as their work desk is known as the Resolute Desk.  The Resolute Desk is comprised of timbers taken from the HMS Resolute, a British exploration ship abandoned during the Belcher Expedition in the Arctic in 1855 but recovered by an American whaler and presented to Queen Victoria in 1856.

The British presented the large partners desk to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880.  The desk has twice been modified. President Franklin Roosevelt had the knee hole enlarged to accommodate his knee braces.  A door with a modified Presidential seal was intended for FDR but President Truman liked it so much that he kept the installation.

The President's desk projects a sense of style and authority.  The photo of President John F. Kennedy sitting at the Resolute desk as his son played with the door at the bottom of the desk is iconic.

President John F. Kennedy working at the Resolute Desk with his son  (1962)

That is why many have taken umbrage with President Obama's persistent inconsiderate "Resolute"-ness.  The Obama White House is deliberate about all photo/ops, particularly in the Oval Office. So when Mr. Obama is photographed speaking to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH 8th) regarding a potential strike on Syria due to chemical weapons use, the President was not just stretching his legs.  

President Obama telephoning House Speaker John Boehner Aug. 31, 2013

But this is not the first time the President Obama has made a Resolute faux pas while conducting foreign policy.  Early in Mr. Obama's first term, the 44th President had both feet on the desk when telephonically chatting with Israeli Prime Minister  Binyamin Netanyahu in 2009. 

President Obama speaking to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2009

This photo stirred controversy in Israel since in that part of the world it is a sign of supreme disrespect to show the sole of one's shoe to another.

To be fair, President Obama is not the only commander-in-chief to treat the Resolute desk casually.  Early in the Presidency of George W. Bush, the 43rd President is being briefed by Chief of Staff Andy Card and Special Advisers Karen Hughes and Karl Rove with his feet on the Resolute.

President George W. Bush in the Oval Office.

On the one hand, President Ronald Reagan refused to enter the Oval Office without wearing a jacket as a sign of respect for the Office.  On the other hand, President George W. Bush was aghast at his predecessor President Bill J. Clinton being photographed wearing running shorts in the Oval Office.  Oh, if that were the only thing at which to be aghast during Clinton's tenure in the Oval Office.

The public should be mindful that these are just snapshots, but they certainly color the narrative.   For instance, after President Obama finished his talk with Speaker Boehner on Syria, he then announced that Congress would vote on the matter, but that the President felt that he still retained the authority to strike.  Afterwards, President Obama went out to golf.

So when President Obama makes his big speech about Syria on Tuesday, will the American public consider his manner and leadership resolute?  Or will they they think of the Vanity Fair article which dubbed Obama "The Lean Back President"  which reflects poorly as a leader seeking taking America to war?

1 comment:

  1. I don't care who does or doesn't put their feet up on the presidential desk actually no one not even if it were in my house should be putting their feet on the furniture