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Landlords of the
Oval Office

Landlords of the
Oval Office

Bouley_4

We, the People, own the symbols of our national government; the party in power does not. It's possible to have enormous pride in our country and history and still be ashamed of some of the current tenants in our landmark buildings.

For seven years the NBC series The West Wing delighted liberals and gave conservatives something on television to scream about. It's gone now, in the heap of great shows that ran their courses. However, thanks to the advent of TV shows on DVD (wow, what great marketing--let's sell what we once gave away for free!) many are rediscovering this show, and others, on their own time.

Two of those people are my niece and nephew, Jake and Heather. You see, I invested seven years in The West Wing, but for the last four weeks every episode from the pilot on through has been ringing through the halls of Park Howard (my home--why isn't yours named?). I, of course, watch when I can. And something happens when you see them all back-to-back.

First, you realize this is the only way to watch TV--my God! No waiting for what's going to happen next! Second, you notice some things that recur that you might not have noticed before. One such thing that always brings me to tears, yes, tears, is when someone that loves this country--Democrat, Republican, foreign diplomat...anyone with a true affection for these United States of America--is humbled, some brought to tears like myself, when they enter the Oval Office. They stand, they look around, they take it in: the history, the power, the grandeur, and the humility. It's all there. The respect is palpable; the room is the great equalizer. All political differences fly out the fabulously antique glass windows with one of the best views in the world, the view from the top.

While watching one of the episodes, one of those moments happened. A person who had waited years to see the Oval got to be there, meet the president. They cried, I cried, as I would if I ever got to really be in that office (one of my goals, to visit the Oval). And while watching, I said aloud, maybe by reflex, maybe on purpose, "If only our current president had that same respect for that office..."

Now Heather, no defender of George Bush, asked, "How do you know he doesn't?" My reply was quick and easy: "By the way he behaves in it, the way he has treated it, and by the fact that he sees it, through his imperialistic attitude of governing, as more of a throne room and less of an office."

You see, it is his office, but it's in our house. We, the People, own that building and everything that goes on there. That's why there's the transparency of government--all notes, e-mails, gifts, everything anyone at the White House gives, gets, or does--is a matter of public record (to some degree). Because it's our house, not theirs. We elect them to serve us, and in exchange we give them the best home court advantage in the world, the White House (designed, like courthouses, to be imposing). But as landlord, I'm getting a little upset with the way this administration (and yes, others) mishandle an office that is to be revered, a building to be cherished and respected--not used for political and personal gain.

In fact, all of Washington, D.C., has the feel of the Oval, of history, our history, good and bad--from the Supreme Court building to the Senate, the national Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. Now, I should say, I've never been. Another goal. And yet I gush with awe and wonder about it all.

That is why when I see it being abused by the residents it makes me crazy. Take the recent past as an example.

Days ago the Senate narrowly rejected an amendment to the Constitution to prohibit flag burning. Why this esteemed body was using the hallowed halls we pay for to debate this nonissue is beyond me. Personally, I feel, if you want to burn a flag, go ahead, just please wrap yourself in it first. And I reject the notion that some foreign national in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan can be seen on the news burning our flag and we can't. Makes no sense whatsoever. And let's not forget the First Amendment; I know some would like to, but it's there, and it's a good idea. Burning a flag is a form of political speech and must remain free, even if I don't like the idea. And if that is taken away, well, welcome to the Bush Dynasty.

And while the Senate debated this, marines were found mutilated, the war in Iraq raged on with no end in sight, and the feds met to raise interest rates yet again. It wouldn't be so bad if this was one useless debate and the rest of their time, the time we pay for in the halls we sublet to them, was used wisely. But right before this they fought about gay marriage. Big whoop.

The Democrats started their path of self-destruction by proposing two resolutions to withdraw from Iraq. Both were defeated in a way that gave Karl Rove so much excitement that he probably doesn't need the little blue pills that Rush Limbaugh has been just detained for having without a proper prescription. (So, Rush is a hillbilly-heroin addict and impotent.) But right after the "Democrats failed," an army general called for basically the same plan the Dems were proposing about troop withdrawal. So it's a good idea, just not if it comes from the opposition. And debating Iraq now is a bit ridiculous, no? Dear Democrats: The time for debate was four years ago, when you remained silent. Debate less, act more. Now is the time for action, not political posturing. We must leave, and soon, or the price will be far too high financially and morally.

Just a few doors down from the Congress the Supreme Court has been having a heyday, driving this country into 40 years of darkness. While they collect salaries for life from us, and get to walk in to a building every day that is the nation's symbol for justice (a building many from around the world come to gaze upon, to walk on the steps), they seem to forget they're on our side, the side of We, the People, and the side of the Constitution. They recently said police can bust down a door without knocking so long as they have a warrant, and now they've said leaders of the 50 states can basically redistrict however they want, even if it means the ruling party is drawing crazy lines just to make sure it stays in power. The GOP basically scored a huge victory and ensured continued domination in our system.

And what does it do with that power? Invade your life in the name of morality. It announced its "American Values Agenda," which includes the following: Pledge Protection Act, House Resolution 2389; Freedom to Display the American Flag Act, HR 42; Public Expression of Religion Act, HR 2679; Marriage Amendment, House Joint Resolution 88; Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, HR 356; Human Cloning Prohibition Act, HR 1357; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Reform Act, HR 5092; the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act, HR 5013 (to "prohibit the confiscation of firearms during certain national emergencies"); the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act; and a series of bills aimed at "permanent tax relief for families."

They all sound, well, well-intentioned on paper. But what the architects of this agenda are really trying to do is codify their Christian values into law, discriminating against all kinds of good, taxpaying Americans by amending a document in order to take away rights instead of grant them...oh, on and on. Well, America, if these are your values, then guess what: When we fall, and we will, look inward, not outward. Our country has real problems, and none listed in this "agenda" even touch the surface. The people who helped build the buildings, the people that funded the very offices these people occupy, would be so very angry at what they are doing.

Meanwhile, in that office that I so revere, the Oval, our president spoke out. Not against the horrifying state our country is in from within--education crisis, health care crisis, energy crisis, Katrina fallout, climate change--but about how a newspaper does "great harm" to the country (a Republican congressman even said it was "treasonous") by disclosing that his administration was looking at private banking records of thousands of citizens, American and otherwise, without so much as a warrant. Yet another black eye on America, an invasion of privacy so heinous that some 35 countries have filed a grievance and want an investigation. Is this outrageous to Bush? No, he and his administration are used to this--he wants a Justice Department probe of The New York Times, as Cheney says it's a "disgrace" that it had won a Pulitzer for reporting on a similar program run by the National Security Agency. Well, I'm disgraced that the drunk lunatic shot a guy in the face, told a senator to go fuck himself, and allows his boss to bully gay people while he claims to love his lesbian daughter.

But I digress.

When I get to the Oval Office on a tour one day, I will cry. Meanwhile, I cry when someone on The West Wing gets to see it for the first time. And I cry continually about the lack of respect and honor that those in power currently have for the very buildings and people that built them. Yes, these are powerful places, but that power is now being abused in so many horrifying ways that I can't even imagine what our forefathers would say. Bush pledged to bring dignity back to the office; instead, he brings worldwide shame. That's not partisan, it's a fact. Read the papers. The GOP that holds power over every address in Washington, from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to the Supreme Court, from one side of the rotunda to the other (Congress and Senate), is taking this country on a course of division, classism, theocratic rule, and so much more. Our great-grandchildren will be paying for it, not just financially but sociologically as well.

When I visit Washington, D.C., pride will swell in me. It's a shame I can't carry that pride outwardly anyplace but there. The State Department, which issues warnings about travel, has a standing order that Americans not wear flags or any kind of decorations on their luggage, backpacks, or clothing that identify them as Americans while in foreign lands. We are potential targets that way.

I'm sorry, but flying a flag outside of the White House isn't good enough: We should be able to carry that flag anywhere in the world and be proud of it, not hide it. And the Oval Office should always be seen as the seat of power of one of the most compassionate forces for good in the world, the United States of America, not as the throne room to a group of neocons that only care about the room while they're in it and, once they're gone, won't seem to care if it ends up in rubble, like the rest of our nation.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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