"The President's Photographer, " a recent presentation by PBS gave an informative look inside the White House. The constant presence of someone taking a picture of everything you do may seem like an annoyance, but like everything else, you get used to it. The photographer becomes a warm and friendly presence that preserves your place in history.
The showing of this PBS program holds importance not just for the archives, but for the "now." It explains how presidents work and relate to those around them. The close relationships that develop among White House staff play a big part not just in the accomplishment of the daily tasks and the leisure activities of those around him, but also in the thinking of an admired president.
It's said, "Your friends are part of who you are," so the people around the president are important factors in the direction of any administration. Perhaps this helps explain who Barack Obama is and what can be expected of his administration. Over the past two years there has been much debate and ambiguity about this. Hope and change were the two hallmarks of his candidacy. Yet everything in Washington seems more of the same.
The faces around Obama look familiar. Haven't we seen them in the Clinton administration? Haven't they held tight to seats in Congress and the ways that things are done in Washington? Haven't they been part of the Wall Street establishment? Haven't they brought vestiges of the Chicago machine politics to DC? These are the new inhabitants of the White House; they are not new to the elite establishment. The President is oh, so comfortable with them. These are the people he knows and likes.
It's great to like the people you know. But if you want change, perhaps it's better to bring some new people in, people who aren't part of the status quo, but people who have been working for change, too. You need to look outside Washington and Chicago and New York and Harvard and Yale for these people. They're there. This is a big country.
Lyndon Johnson had Bill Moyers. Oh, for a Bill Moyers in the White House now! Jack Kennedy had Bobby. Barack Obama had Jeremiah Wright, but that became uncomfortable. Just maybe Wright was right. Things would be different if the politician listened to the pastor.
So thanks for the photos. They have helped to explain a lot about our president and where our country is headed. Sure, Rahm likes a big hug, and Joe likes a pat on the back. Hillary loves having the microphone, Tim now enjoys giving an interview, and the generals relish their wars. Obama has become a Washington insider.
As enticing as the White House lifestyle is with its inner circle of friendly advisors and its glamourous entertainments, I wonder if President Obama has ever seriously contemplated something different - bringing aboard the progressive, liberal voices who have been speaking up for the change he promised. They're not part of the military-industrial-congressional complex, or meetings with Republicans and corporate CEO's, or old Harvard & Chicago buddies. The President's photographer might find their lives rather dull. They're too busy trying to get their message heard by a deaf administration and a wimpy Democratic party. They are the voices for the discouraged Americans who have lost hope. Unfortunately, they are absent in the White House photographer's pictures. And apparently they're absent in the President's mindset.