Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Whitleypedia photo essay: Goodbye to W

Today White House staff, past and present, and other loyal supporters of President Bush - some several thousand - went to Andrews Air Force Base to give him, his lovely wife, the Cheneys, and their families a rousing send off.

This is one of the craft that serves as Air Force One:

Once the Bushes and Cheneys arrived, there was a flurry of photography:

After the National Anthem, former Vice President Cheney made some short remarks. He said, "This morning, I told Joe Biden: after eight years in office, you'll look like me." The amount of laughter seemed to surprise Mr. Cheney. He was in a wheelchair after injuring his back a couple days ago (terrible timing).

President Bush made some short remarks. He said for eight years he wondered how he'd feel at this moment, and now what he feels is gratitude and joy. He said he was also proud to have had a front row seat to history, seeing President Obama sworn in. He said now that he wasn't in office, he could freely make endorsements, and he told everyone to buy Mrs. Cheney's forthcoming book on James Madison off of Amazon.com. He said if he ever felt sorry for himself in the previous eight years, his wife reminded him, "Hey Buster, remember you volunteered for this." He said he hadn't yet seen his new home in Dallas, which was going to be his first "post-Presidency faith-based initiative." Everyone laughed.

After the speech, former President Bush worked the rope line, one last time. (I didn't want to get close enough for a handshake, as I was more interested in getting a good picture.)

The former first families approached the aircraft...

... friends waved a final goodbye.

Then the plane departed.

Recently, I have thought of this line from Gandalf:

"Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till."

Jared on KSL.com

Here's an article that quoted me on KSL.com. I'm quoted opposite Tim Chambless from the Hinkcley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. When I was a student at the U, I would go to events and interview him. He's incredibly smart and dedicated to his students; it's an honor to be named as an expert opposite him --- though of course I would take issue with some of his opinions on the (sniff) former President Bush.

Here's my favorite exchange:

Chambless also feels the standing of the U.S. has gone down around the world since President Bush took office. But, that's a statement Whitley says is false.

"We have better relationships with most of Asia than we used to, with India, with Pakistan and Japan and China and South Korea. We have better relationships with Mexico and with Colombia. Africa just loves President George W. Bush," he said.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Limousine liberals, record cold, and the Aircraft Formerly Known As Air Force One

There's a feeling in the air in the District of Colombia today: there are huge crowds of people walking the streets all dressed up, traffic delays, and a great sense of anticipation about the future. Seriously, I have not seen crowds this excited in town since the release of the last Harry Potter book.

Traffic in the District today isn't as bad as it was on Sunday. All the curious folks who want to catch a bit of the magic before the big day went in yesterday. Today, however, I saw a lot of limousines driving around downtown, no doubt big-time fundraisers, Hollywood celebrities, wealthy lawyers, and other limousine liberals who've had enough of poor people not getting their fair shake under the Republicans. (Do I need to add my HTML tags on that one, or is my tone pretty evident without it?)

Limousine liberals?

It's like a cross between the Fourth of July and Prom ... but much, much colder. The Washington area has experienced some shocking cold the last couple days: The Baltimore Sun reports that the temperature on Tuesday will be "10 degrees below the average high for the date" and that "visitors to Washington should be dressed for long hours in subfreezing cold."

See, those of us who are grateful to President Bush for standing up to the zealotry of the global warming crowd can't help but smirk that Barack Obama, the global warming President, will be sworn in before a group of freezing-cold people. I imagine that the speechwriters and policy folks have gone back and forth on weather (excuse me, whether) or not to make a big deal about global warming in his Inaugural Address. If he does, it could be an embarrassing continuation of the "Al Gore Effect," that is, global warming-themed events that coincide with extreme cold. There's a great editorial about it in The Chicago Daily Herald here.

I will not be venturing in to the Inauguration, not out of a sense of objection to the President-elect; Administration staffers, including myself, will be at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland waving goodbye to President and Mrs. Bush, who will depart on the Aircraft Formerly Known As Air Force One (since that designation is reserved for when the President flies on it, and Mr. Bush will no longer be President).

I'll post photos of that as soon as I get them (early Tuesday afternoon, by the time I make it back to my computer), so be sure to check in again later.

Bumper to bumper traffic along the DC Mall.

Tex-Mex to Deep Dish: How will the White House change?

Tomorrow is the Inauguration. The level of enthusiasm in the District is reaching a fevered-pitch. Well, actually, given the temperature here the last couple days, it's not quite fevered, but it's definitely pitchy.

Top: the Presidential booth for watching the parade on January 20 on Pennsylvania Avenue. Bottom: the booth with a better shot of the White House in the background. Note: these pics are a few days old; the security is so tight I couldn't get new ones today.

Whatever negativity may have arisen during the campaign has evaporated in the face of collective enthusiasm about the Inauguration.

Watching the Presidential campaign unfold from within the White House was certainly a treat – but also a trick. For example, it was fun to learn one Friday that Colin Powell would be endorsing Obama the coming Sunday on "Meet the Press." But, it was traumatizing when they made me take down the Sarah Palin pictures I'd taped to my walls ("because it violated the Hatch Act" or some such nonsense).

Despite the rancor of anti-Bush sentiment throughout the campaign – from both parties – the President made historic efforts to ensure that this transition, the first since 9/11, went smoothly. Reports of President Bush's magnanimous efforts have not been exaggerated. He elegantly said in his first inaugural: "the peaceful transfer of authority is rare in history, yet common in our country." Being able to see this first-hand was truly a privilege. Shrugging off the relentless campaign-fueled criticism, his Administration reached out to both candidates, once they locked up their party's respective nominations, on issues like national security and the financial meltdown.

President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama walk the Colonnade to the Oval Office Monday, Nov. 10, 2008, as the President and Mrs. Laura Bush welcomed the President-elect and his wife, Michelle, to the White House. White House photo by Eric Draper

With the transition from Bush's folks to Obama's, I am eager to hear what cultural changes will occur within the White House – not political, obviously, those are readily apparent - but, for example, food. At Ike's – the creatively named cafeteria in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where I worked – everyone looked forward to Tex-Mex Wednesday. (Did you know there were a lot of people from Texas in the Bush White House?) The President himself was such a Tex-Mex fan that Air Force One never lifted off without taco fixin's, the chef told us.

Will Tex-Mex Wednesday be replaced by Chicago deep dish pizza and chili dog Wednesday? Who's to say? Not I, but certainly the non-political support staff at the White House: food services, mail room, janitorial, etc., who still have their jobs. Since the District is 2/3rds black, so are many of the non-political workers at the White House, and they all seem pretty excited about their new boss.

The District voted 93 percent in favor of Obama. This is higher than Romney would have gotten in Utah; the people here are pretty excited to see him roll into town.

Example: The lady who picked up our mail every day (who is African American) asked me if she could have, as a souvenir, our stack of newspapers from the day after the election. Naturally, I said yes. She then asked if she could also have the papers for the day after the Inauguration. "As far as I'm concerned," I said, "But I won't be around to give them to you, and I have the feeling my replacement will be more interested in them than I would be – so be sure to get them fast that day." She laughed.

Tents set up on the White House Ellipse for media to gather under on Inauguration Day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In the D News

Yesterday, the Deseret News posted/printed a story about my service in the White House here. It was extremely flattering and I appreciate the "shout out" from my "homeys" at the "D News." They ran the photo that a friend of mine had snapped the day before:

Furthermore, a quote of mine from the story got the quote of the day in yesterday's Utah Policy Daily!

“ … watching how gentlemanly the president acted toward ensuring the smoothest transition possible was literally awe-inspiring. You can tell that he, and everyone else in the White House, really love this country and want the Obama administration to be successful."

Rock and roll, man, rock and roll. Also, KSL Radio interview me yesterday about the President's legacy. I talked about FTAs and attempts to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They said they'll air it on Tuesday for Inauguration Day.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

West Wing Whitleypedia-style

My office was in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus, but I got to attend meetings every morning in the West Wing.

Old Executive Building on the right, West Wing (and delivery van) on the left.

My first impression of the White House, and the West Wing in particular, is how noticeably smaller it is than you ever see in TV or movies. West Wing meetings were so crowded, the number where I didn't have to stand could be counted on two hands.

For example, that scene in "Superman II" where Zod invades the Oval Office? Yeah, it's nowhere near that big.

The true perk of working in the White House is giving tours of the West Wing. This is an excellent way to 1) share a cherished part of American history with loved ones and former colleagues, 2) impress friends and family, and 3) dazzle people with your knowledge of Americana: ranging from anecdotes about the corpulent William Howard Taft's getting stuck in his own bathtub to describing the bilge water at the replica of the USS Constitution. Unfortunately, you can only take pictures in a couple places. Here are some:

Left: The Rose Garden and the Collonade, Right: Press briefing room

I took a lot of people on tours (groups could be no larger than six). One might wonder: if you're there 12 hours a day during the week, why would you want to come back on the weekends for even more? See and that question answers itself: bringing people to see the White House served as a constant reminder that it was indeed a privilege to work there, long hours and irritating Blackberries aside. This lesson was perhaps most prevalent on one tour when the Relief Society President in my ward, upon just gazing into the Oval Office, started to cry. (And from then on, every time I took someone on a West Wing tour, I was sure to share that episode.)

When we got our pictures with the President in the Oval, he told us a touching story: He said that a President traditionally hangs the portrait of his favorite previous president in the Oval Office; he said he was torn because he had two favorite ex-Presidents: Lincoln and Bush 41. So he decided to hang Lincoln on the wall and carry his father with him in his heart. (He's shared this story with reporters before so I don't mind sharing it here.)

My pic with Bush: it looks weird because I didn't have access to a scanner this weekend and just photographed the photograph.

The Oval Office, incidentally, was built by the aforementioned President Taft, who wanted the President's office that shape because it was the same as President Washington's office for his two terms as Commander-in-Chief in Philadelphia.

For a virtual tour of the Oval by President Bush, go here.

Adjacent to the Oval is a secondary, private office/meeting area that the President can use. (I believe there's a dining area in there too.) I was sure to point out to everyone that it was inside this private office that Bill Clinton ostensibly had his liaison with Monica Lewinsky. Because of this, under President Bush, no interns were allowed in the West Wing, or to have any contact with high-level staff. At all. Even to make copies or bring someone paperclips. (This could prove a source of frustration when someone needed paper clips, but everyone agreed it was for the best.)

I ended up taking a lot of friends on tours. Now ... not to play into any religious stereotypes, but given the demographics of Latter-day Saints vis a vis Repubicanism, I would imagine there are more Mormons departing the Bush White House than will be now entering the Obamadministration. Noting this, a friend in Senator Bennett's office commented, after I took a batch of Bennetteers on a tour, "It's too bad we won't know anyone who can take us on these for a while."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Into the Sunset - the End of the Bush Administration

Self portrait with POTUS.

My first day of work in the White House Communications Office, my supervisor told me, "It has come to our attention that you have a blog," to which I responded, "I'll take it down today."
Iowa Caucuses: 2008

Whitleypedia was a casualty of my service in the Bush Administration, which ended today. So relaunching Whitleypedia to commemorate the end of his term in office seems a fitting tribute – both to the President and a pretty darn great blog (which almost started on a Presidential note, when I kicked it off during the Iowa Caucuses last year).

As a political entity, the Bush presidency has spanned my entire adult life. By the time I returned from my mission in Germany, Governor Bush had practically already won the Republican Primary. During college, as the token conservative at the University of Utah newspaper, I was expected to take up arms daily against a sea of self-righteous liberals on behalf of the Republican President – I even wrote an op-ed once called "All We Are Saying, Is Give War A Chance." At my first real job, as education editor at The Park Record, I learned more about No Child Left Behind than anyone without kids ever should. And of course the Administration's actions affected our work in Congress when I was in the office of Utah's inimitable Senator Orrin Hatch.

Obviously, when I started working in the White House Communications Office in April, the amount of Bush in my life went into the stratosphere. Like all politicos, I had wanted to work in the White House as long as I could remember; when I moved to D.C in 2005, my goal was to eventually work for First Lady Ann Romney (alas). I didn't expect to work in the White House earlier, and appreciate the chance to work here before the Age of Obama (reverent awe, cue the angelic choirs). It was an incredible experience - one I wouldn't exchange for (insert your own superlative ).

The White House at night.

Socially, entering a Presidential Administration with less than a year left is like transferring high schools halfway through graduation. Some people at the White House have been with the Bushes ever since he was governor of Texas ... literally 10 years of their lives working, eating, and sleeping George W. Bush (though not as much of that last one as they doubtless needed). Unfathomable!

I had the chance to meet the President four times – all for photo ops, one of them at the White House Christmas Party and one of them with visiting family members. He radiates a warmth, sincerity, and kindness that make it impossible to believe accusations against him of "arrogance." Regrettably, I was never able to clear brush with him at Crawford, but I think of him whenever there is brush that needs to be cleared.

President Bush clears brush.

With the explosion of the blogosphere and online news outlets, more has been written about George W. Bush than any other President. It's not my goal to provide any sweeping revelations or thorough policy analysis of the Bush Administration, but rather, share insights, observations, and tales that might be interesting, worth a link or two on someone else's blog, about what life was like in the trenches of the end of the Bush White House. So the next few days will feature installments about my experiences on the rebooted Whitelypedia titled, "Into the Sunset: The Cowboy President Leaves Washington – A Whitleypedia exclusive." The series will also feature snapshots of life inside the Beltway as we approach the Inauguration of President Obama.

(Note that Whitleypedia was formerly known as "Rapier Whit," (until I tired of explaining what a "rapier" was). This relaunch seemed as good a time as any to change the name.)


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