Eternal order from a spotless mind
I don't like the president's Oval Office. I don't think I ever have. I've spent a lifetime in offices, lots of them, but none has ever looked like the White House version. So spare, clean, and orderly, like touring an Orrin Thompson model home.
My dad had an office. It was a monument to the cluttered joy of a spaghetti-junction mind. The whirlwind left awe-inspiring splatter. It was a white-collar woodshop with scattered notepaper in place of sawdust. I've tried to keep my office clean. It's futile. The choice is either pristine and useless or disheveled and productive.
I can't see how the Oval Office should be any different.
I know the room is used. Though some presidents have chosen to get certain work done in a smaller study, just west of the Oval Office, most use the actual Oval Office for work and meetings. Traffic from the large number of staff, who move in and out, takes its toll. There have been four sets of flooring installed over the years, and the carpet has been replaced repeatedly. This is a real room for tackling real world problems. But who'd ever know it?
Today soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care is a mess and the plan to fix it messier, the economy is shaky, right-wingers are looking for pitchforks, the climate-change debate rages, Iran is run by a nuke-happy paranoid control freak, Israel is talking preemptive strike, the national debt is in the stratosphere, and North Korea is like a kid throwing rocks at a Rottweiler.
So what the hell is with this pristine desk? Anybody work here? If so, let's see some papers strewn about, books opened and highlighted, cigarette butts piling up in crusty coffee mugs, phone numbers jotted down on napkins, Bic pens on the floor, legal pads filled with assorted scribbling, graphs and flow charts leaning up against the wall, a whiteboard, an overhead projector, chairs in harried arrangements after impromptu meetings with the best and brightest.
What kind of a signal is sent by this Spartan presentation? It looks like an office used for staged photos.
Is this not command central, the workstation of the most powerful man on Earth, when Earth has never seemed more imperiled? Then make it look like the world is as complicated and crazy as it appears in my newspaper. Calm, cool, and collected might sell on the stump, but back at the shop, the center of decision making, numbers crunching, and policy planning, should seem every bit as busy and bustling as the brains charged with sorting it all out.
Make it look as if there was an argument or two in there, like Joe Biden had Robert Gates up against a wall over the future of the Middle East, like ties were loosened, sleeves rolled up, and some real spit shot from the mouths of the provoked and passionate.
I want to know this isn't business-as-usual time in America. We're not in Eisenhower country anymore--forget the golf swings and throwing out the first pitch. Let's see some sweat rags slung over couches, let's make it look like the Cuban Missile Crisis Part II came crashing through. I want a commander on fire and a room that looks burnt.
Feel free to continue the photo ops, but show us the result of an honest day's work. Display a scene that will wake us up to the struggles and responsibilities of a man with a tougher employer than Sisyphus ever knew. We know 14-hour days are routinely recorded, but we don't see the collateral result. Let's change that. Let's make the Oval Office more like the office of a Washington Post editor or network news producer. Why should a president's desk look any cleaner than the desks of those who follow his every move?
I could go on and rail against the color scheme, the oddly effeminate decor, the lack of natural woodwork, the bad rug, the impersonal artwork, the need for another wastebasket, but that's personal taste. If you want couches that look like they were dropped off by Gabberts, that's your prerogative. I'm simply arguing, at the very least, for the dragging out of some staplers, Scotch tape, paper clips, file folders, and clipboards--as proof that this is where a human being is actually employed.
As for Congress, if I had more space I'd push for moving them all into cubicles.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.