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."


B Dubs said...

Well, I suppose it's good you got out of there when you did! Is that's what your friends are planning?

ABrooks said...

I tried so hard to resist watching that Superman II clip! But alas, I could not. I admit, I loved every minute.


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