Experience of the West Wing

The American Presidency transcends politics. For all the political warring to get and stay there, the essential matter of the Presidency itself stands untouched by the ideological fracas. To spend only a few hours working in the West Wing and other parts of the White House is to feel the reason.

The reporters of the White House press corps – grinding through deadline-whipping work days in the briefing room and their sardine-can work space behind it – hold a reverence for the sense of their place in the world. In their constitutionally guarded role as the watchdog Fourth Estate — advocating, ideally, only for the whole truth – the reporters assigned to the White House clearly know their ears and fingers are pressed against a major artery. I stood through a briefing, watching them feel the pulse of the American experience. Exhausted, overwhelmingly competitive and stressed, yes, they are those. But they’re more than respectful, even when firing hard questions from the howitzer that is a major media outlet. They work, day after long day, in a quiet awe of that hallowed ground. It’s the White House. The gestalt feel of the words and the workings of that place remind each of us of American ideals. As I questioned Jay Carney at that daily briefing, I was struck by the calling of statesmanship to each of us. To every American.

I was blessed to stand in the cabinet room to interview President Obama. Surrounding him and the intangible force that is the Presidency is an enormous human orbit of protection, advisement, but also the sense of knowingness. I talked with him struck by what the President and his close circle know that you and I will not. The threats mined by U.S. intelligence stream under the doors and over the transoms of the West Wing day and night. To serve there is to know and act on these threats, knowing parents will put their children to bed that night assuming the inner workings of the United States will safeguard them. This is but one reality of the job. To serve as President, regardless of party, is to wield the prestige of the office in honor and ceremony of the finest of humanity while, at once, knowing and acting upon the malignant intent of the worst.

The White House is a rigorously formal Georgian mansion stocked with history by the century. The eyes of Presidents who’ve known the awe of the job watch over it from large portraits in high-ceiling rooms whose windows aperture onto monumental views. But the White House also harbors a family – currently one with two young daughters and a Portuguese water dog. They live behind high fences, guarded by full-kitted men and women who watch out for them with guns and responsibility of the highest power and weight. The evening I and other reporters were working there on the South Lawn, we saw the highly armored Presidential motorcade assemble at the south door. Word whispered into my ear that the Obamas that night were going to young Sasha’s 8th grade graduation. For all the family’s effort at normalcy, at keeping Sasha and Malia at long distance from cameras, the awesomeness of the American Presidency follows them. They all must wear its breastplate wherever they go. This reminds all who see the effects of it about the significance of America. It tells us our place in the world comes with a responsibility far more enormous than partisanship.

The West Wing is a workplace. To work there for only a few hours as I did is to feel and appreciate this. I sat for a quick lunch with policy advisor David Plouffe only a few feet from the door of the Situation Room, and found myself moved deeply by the service symbolized by every grain of wood that lines the walls. Men and women for generations have given of themselves to the American Presidency, and, thus, to you and me. They sacrifice deeply for it, in ways even the Fourth Estate will not fully know, no matter how dutifully we try. Such service – and the charge that comes with it – is neither left wing nor right wing. It is, simply, the West Wing of the American Presidency, the American experience – yours and mine.


4 Responses to “Experience of the West Wing”

  1. Gina Robinson Says:

    I Love it.

  2. Thanks, Gina!! Spread the word!!

    • Doris Hayes Gibson Says:

      Thank you for sharing your insight of this splendid journey, Michael. Such an unforgettable picture to include in your collection of treasured moments! God bless!

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