Two presidents, a study in blue

September 27, 2013

Pete Souza photo - Pres Obama talks backstage with Pres Clinton as Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at CGI event 9-24-2013

White House photographer Pete Souza: ‏@petesouza 24 Sep Pres Obama talks backstage with Pres Clinton as Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at CGI [Clinton Global Initiative] event today [September 24, 2013] pic.twitter.com/TCYqyxMZa8

Pete Souza’s work as White House photographer continues to fascinate me.  He’s got more opportunity than most of us have to get great shots — but he’s also got a keen eye for a good story-telling photo, and a good eye for great photo composition on the fly.

In this photo, Souza captures two presidents lost in conversation, bathed in blue stage lights, awaiting their time on the stage; but next up is Hillary Clinton, who will introduce them.  Mrs. Clinton awaits her cue.  The presidents met at the annual meetings for the Clinton Global Initiative.

Hold on to this photo; depending on events of 2016, it may yet have many more stories to tell.


President Obama, a man of grace and encouragement

May 27, 2013

Consoler and Encourager in Chief:

Note President Obama left at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma

Caption from Pete Souza‘s slide show: A message from President Barack Obama is seen on a Plaza Towers Elementary School sign, at Moore Fire Department Station #1 in Moore, Okla., May 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Pete Souza‘s work as White House photographer will ultimately make historians’ work much richer.  He’s got a great eye for a shot that needs to be snapped, and a great sense of art on the fly.  If you’re not a regular watcher of Souza’s work, you probably should be, especially if you’re teaching history.

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Odd juxtaposition of images — but it gives me some hope

January 29, 2013

A great photo from Pete Souza, the current White House photographer.  I’m hoping to track down I’ve tracked down even more details on this, because not all sources like to post all the credit information or other stuff a newspaper or blog should have . . .

Pete Souza photo, lunch in the White House, Obama, Boehner, Pelosi, Reid, McConnell

Photo of a lunch in an anteroom of the President’s office, with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Consolidated News published the photo for its clients with this information:

United States President Barack Obama has lunch with members of the Congressional Leadership in the Oval Office Private Dining Room, May 16, 2012. The President served hoagies from Taylor Gourmet, which he purchased after a small business roundtable earlier in the day. Seated, clockwise from the President, are: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada), U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican of Kentucky), U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Democrat of California), and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (Republican of Ohio)..Mandatory Credit: Pete Souza – White House via CNP

At least we know where to get sandwiches like that, now. (Here’s the photo in the White House Flickr set.)

Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield

Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield; oil on canvas by Aaron Shikler, 1978;  photo of painting from Wikipedia

Way back in the Early Holocene, when I first interned with the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, D-Montana, held a close friendship with Sen. George Aiken, R-Vermont.  Many mornings they breakfasted together in the staff carry-out in the basement of the Capitol; their wives were friends, too.  One morning we got a question on some hot political issue at the Democratic Policy Committee (where I shared the best office I ever had in the third floor of the Capitol); I was dispatched to find Mansfield at breakfast and get an answer.  I found him dining with Aiken.

I forget the issue, but it was highly politically charged, something about policy on Vietnam.  Republicans and Democrats were much at war on the issue.  Mansfield read the note, and showed it to Aiken.  They discussed the issue while Mansfield penned an answer and handed it to me.  No big deal — two senators dealing with an important issue, talking it over.

When I joined Senate staff in a permanent position, life was much different among the senators.  The easy camradery between Mansfield and Aiken couldn’t be found anywhere.  That was in the late 1970s.  Partisanship was much sharper and nastier than I had seen earlier.  Vietnam was over, and that was probably a good thing.  The divisiveness I found would not have lent itself to any resolution of Vietnam.

At the RARE II conference at the University of Montana, in 1978, I heard a presentation from a staffer to Montana’s Sen. Paul Hatfield, if I recall correctly, a guy who had staffed for Sen. Lee Metcalf before.  He described the difficulties in getting serious legislation done on public lands issues.  As he described it, especially before the installation of air conditioning in the Capitol, the Senate would recess for the insufferable summer heat.  Senators, who had developed working relationships, if not friendships, would visit each other in their home states, for hunting and sight-seeing, among other things.  A Montana senator might show his colleague from Vermont how different the Rocky Mountains are from the Appalachians.  A Louisana senator might show his colleagues from western states how different is flood control on the Mississippi than on the Colorado or Sacramento, or Columbia.  By the time the Senate got back to business in the fall, legislation had been worked out, key alliances formed to get things done for various states, and though opposition was expressed to many projects, it was genuine difference of opinion expressed to friends.

That’s gone.  In 2013, it’s rare a Member of Congress can develop those kinds of relationships with other Members, especially with the fund-raising requirements for re-election.  Members travel back to their states and districts as many weekends as they can; they get to know their staff on each end, but they don’t know the other senators, or members of Congress.

President Warren G. Harding doesn’t have a reputation as a great president; but his poker parties were famous.  Lyndon Johnson didn’t play poker a lot (though I understand he did on occasion), but his presidency’s record in photographs show that he invited Members of Congress individually for afternoon meetings, often punctuated with a drink, always slathered in business and the potential for favors or arm-twisting.  Those sessions are legendary for the legislation they greased into law.

When I saw that photo at the top, I was put in mind of another famous image.

Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want

Norman Rockwell’s painting, “Freedom from Want,” part of a quartet based on the Four Freedoms State of the Union Speech of Franklin Roosevelt, in January 1941.

Did Souza have that Rockwell painting in mind when he framed that shot?

Rockwell’s work was more than just iconic, really.  In the simple history, from Wikipedia:

The Four Freedoms or Four Essential Human Freedoms is a series of oil paintings produced in 1943 by the American artist Norman Rockwell. The paintings are approximately equal in dimension with measurements of 45.75 inches (116.2 cm) × 35.5 inches (90 cm).[1] The series, now in the Norman Rockwell Museum, was made for reproduction in The Saturday Evening Post over the course of four consecutive weeks in 1943 alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day. Later they were the highlight of a touring exhibition sponsored by the Saturday Evening Post and the United States Department of the Treasury. The touring exhibition and accompanying sales drives raised over US$132 million in the sale of war bonds.[2]

The Four Freedoms theme was derived from the 1941 State of the Union Address by United States President Franklin Roosevelt delivered to the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941.[3] During the speech he identified four essential human rights (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom From Want and Freedom From Fear) that should be universally protected and should serve as a reminder of the American motivation for fighting in World War II.[4]

The theme was incorporated into the Atlantic Charter,[5] and it became part of the charter of the United Nations.[6] Roosevelt’s message was as follows: “In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.”[3][7]

Torpedo sandwiches from Taylor’s don’t exactly make a Thanksgiving dinner, but that’s not the point.  Rockwell portrayed an American family — at Thanksgiving, perhaps — sitting down to enjoy dinner together, breaking bread together as a Christian preacher might put it in a sermon.  President Johnson famously invited, “Come, let us reason together.”  Around Obama’s smaller-than-Rockwell’s table, the smiles are not so evident.  But I still see hope.

I see some hope for friendship, for the relationships that might move legislation, for the legislation that might move the nation.  God and Norman Rockwell know we could use it.

We can hope, can’t we?

More, perhaps related:


July 4 naturalization ceremony at the White House

July 10, 2012

It’s one of those great and wonderful mysteries:  Why do people enlist to put their lives on the line for a nation in which they are not citizens?

Regardless the motivations, many people do that, for the U.S.  As a partial means of saying “thank you,” the U.S. grants expedited naturalization processes for some of those soldiers.

July 4, at the White House, about two dozen of those non-citizen soldiers completed the process, and took the oath to become citizens of the nation they’ve already served in defense.  From the White House blogs:

President Obama Salutes New American Citizens

[Colleen Curtis]

President Obama at Naturalization Ceremony July 4, 2012

President Barack Obama listens as Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano administers the oath of allegiance during a military naturalization ceremony for active duty service members in the East Room of the White House, July 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama began his Independence Day celebrations by hosting a naturalization ceremony for active duty service members in the East Room of the White House. It was the third time the President has hosted this kind of service, and he told the audience, which included the families of the service members who were taking the oath of citizenship, that it is one of his favorite things to do. “It brings me great joy and inspiration because it reminds us that we are a country that is bound together not simply by ethnicity or bloodlines, but by fidelity to a set of ideas.”

Before the President gave his remarks, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas presented the countries of the candidates for naturalization and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano delivered the oath of allegiance.  President Obama told the new citizens that is was an honor to serve as their Commander in Chief, and to be the first to greet them as “my fellow Americans.”

With this ceremony today — and ceremonies like it across our country — we affirm another truth: Our American journey, our success, would simply not be possible without the generations of immigrants who have come to our shores from every corner of the globe.  We say it so often, we sometimes forget what it means — we are a nation of immigrants.  Unless you are one of the first Americans, a Native American, we are all descended from folks who came from someplace else — whether they arrived on the Mayflower or on a slave ship, whether they came through Ellis Island or crossed the Rio Grande.

Immigrants signed their names to our Declaration and helped win our independence.  Immigrants helped lay the railroads and build our cities, calloused hand by calloused hand.  Immigrants took up arms to preserve our union, to defeat fascism, and to win a Cold War.  Immigrants and their descendants helped pioneer new industries and fuel our Information Age, from Google to the iPhone.  So the story of immigrants in America isn’t a story of “them,” it’s a story of “us.”  It’s who we are.  And now, all of you get to write the next chapter.

You can read the transcript of the President’s full remarks here.

More:


Paying homage to civil rights pioneers: Remembering Rosa Parks’ courage

April 20, 2012

President Obama, sitting on the bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 - White House photo by Pete Souza

President Obama, sitting on the bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 - White House photo by Pete Souza.

In USA Today (via The Detroit Free Press), reporter David Jackson described the event:

When President Barack Obama went to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn on Wednesday, he got to visit one of the shrines of the civil rights movement that helped lead to the nation’s first African-American president.

Rosa Parks’ bus.

Obama described a moving scene to supporters later that morning.

“I actually had the chance to sit in Rosa Parks’ bus,” Obama said. “I just sat there for a moment and pondered the courage and tenacity that is part of our very recent history, but is also a part of that long line of folks — sometimes nameless, oftentimes didn’t make the history books — but who constantly insisted on their dignity, their stake in the American Dream.”

Parks’ refusal to move to the back of that bus on Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Ala., led to her arrest, which led to a bus boycott by African Americans, which led to the creation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which led to the elevation of a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr.

Eventually came the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and an ongoing sea change in American race relations that includes the 2008 election of Barack Obama.

Said Obama at another stop: “It takes ordinary citizens to bring about change, who are committed to keep fighting and keep pushing, and keep inching this country closer to our highest ideals.”

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