Yesterday, President George W. Bush hosted a lunch at the White House for former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and President-elect Barack Obama. Anyone who caught the brief coverage from yesterday would have been left with the impression that it was a largely genial affair -- the odd distance kept by Jimmy Carter during the photo-op notwithstanding -- not much more than a tidy bit of transition pageantry. Bill Clinton, apparently, was very enthusiastic about the rug.
Somehow, the Washington Times' Joe Curl managed to mine some nugget of grievance out of the event, as he has a story up today detailing the offense he took when Barack Obama callously deigned to, uhm...thank the President from hosting the event. Really, how DARE he!
It may be the people's house, but for 13 more days, it's his house, and his Oval Office, even if three former presidents -- one of them his dad -- happen to drop by for lunch.
Unless, that is, the new tenant who has been measuring the drapes for months joins the foursome and, despite his repeated insistence that "there's only one president at a time," decides he'd like to make a little speech, too.
Bush's remarks receive the full credit of being "brief" and "magnanimous," terms which could be fairly applied to Obama's response as well. He goes on to describe the scene as Bush drew to the end of his statement:
"Thank you all." Done, finished, over and out.
Junior White House staffers immediately bellowed "Thank you! Thanks, guys!" in an aggressive call for the press to vamoose. The giant "scoop" television lights that illuminated the members of the world's most exclusive club were quickly shut off as reporters and photographers began heading for the door.
But just then, the man who takes over the house on Jan. 20 on a long-term lease -- four years, with an option to renew for four more -- decided that the show wasn't quite over.
Leaving aside the always embarrassing "measuring the drapes" cliche (one selects drapes by measuring the windows, reporters of America!), Curl's snottiness seems mislaid. The sum total of yesterday's remarks reads:
PRESIDENT BUSH: I want to thank the President-elect for joining the ex-Presidents for lunch. And one message that I have and I think we all share is that we want you to succeed. Whether we're Democrat or Republican, we care deeply about this country. And to the extent we can, we look forward to sharing our experiences with you. All of us who have served in this office understand that the office transcends the individual. And we wish you all the very best. And so does the country.
PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Thank you. I just want to thank the President for hosting us. This is an extraordinary gathering. All the gentlemen here understand both the pressures and possibilities of this office. And for me to have the opportunity to get advice, good counsel and fellowship with these individuals is extraordinary. And I'm very grateful to all of them. But, again, thank you, Mr. President, for hosting us.
Naturally, Curl renders Obama's side of the commentary with a full, Mametian rendering of his trademarked stammer. The rest of Curl's piece is actually an excellent blow-by-blow of the chaotic shepherding of the press corps to and through the event, a worthwhile look at how the sausage of pomp gets made and served. I'm at a loss, however, as to why he's so bent out of shape at Obama being briefly gracious. Maybe he had other plans, or something? Anyway, while the White House's video account of the meeting cuts off before Obama's remarks, the transcript record offers the statements of both men, so it's hard to make the case that the White House was offended by Obama's decision to offer some public gratitude.
I'd point out that had it not been for Curl's article, I might never have gone over to the White House page to check out the video. Doing so, I'm struck by how chintzy that side of the White House's press operation is! Their online video rendering and presentation is decidedly stale by about five years or so. It would be great if the forthcoming administration could address this -- maybe this newly minted "performance officer" or some of Obama's Silicon Valley pals could get the Executive Branch up to speed with the latest types of embeddable video.