Barack Obama has just landed in Washington, D.C., on his way to visit the President George W. Bush at the White House and I’m wondering if Bush will jokingly offer Obama some hand sanitizer.
What’s the joke?
Well, in The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes this of visiting Bush in the White House as a U.S. senator.
There had been a moment during the breakfast meeting, though, after the backslapping and the small talk and when all of us were seated, with Vice President Cheney eating his eggs Benedict impassively and Karl Rove at the far end of the table discreetly checking his BlackBerry, that I witnessed a different side of the man. The President had begun to discuss his second-term agenda, mostly a reiteration of his campaign talking points – the importance of staying the course in Iraq and renewing the Patriot Act, the need to reform Social Security and overhaul the tax system, his determination to get an up-or-down vote on his judicial appointees – when suddenly it felt as if somebody in a back room had flipped a switch. The President’s eyes became fixed; his voice took on the agitated, rapid tone of someone neither accustomed to nor welcoming interruption; his easy affability was replaced by an almost messianic certainty. As I watched my mostly Republican colleagues hang on his every word, I was reminded of the dangerous isolation that power can bring, and appreciated the Founders’ wisdom in designing a system to keep power in check.
I looked up, shaken out of my memory, and saw one of the older black men who made up most of the White House staff standing next to me.
“Want me to take that plate for you?”
I nodded, trying to swallow a mouthful of chicken something-or-others, and noticed that the line to greet the President had evaporated. Wanting to thank my hosts, I headed toward the Blue Room. A young Marine at the door politely indicated that the photograph session was over and that the President needed to get to his next appointment. But before I could turn around to go, the President himself appeared in the doorway and waved me in.
“Obama!” the President said, shaking my hand. “Come here and meet Laura. Laura, you remember Obama. We saw him on TV during election night. Beautiful family. And that wife of yours – that’s one impressive lady.”
“We both got better than we deserve, Mr. President,” I said, shaking the First Lady’s hand and hoping that I’d wiped the crumbs off my face. The President turned to an aide nearby, who squired a big dollop of hand sanitizer in the President’s hand.
“Want some?” the President asked. “Good stuff. Keeps you from getting colds.”
Not wanting to seem unhygienic, I took a squirt.
“Come over here for a second,” he said, leading me off to one side of the room. “You know,” he said quietly, “I hope you don’t mind me giving you a piece of advice.”
“Not at all, Mr. President.”
He nodded. “You’ve got a bright future,” he said. “Very bright. But I’ve been in this town awhile and, let me tell you, it can be tough. When you get a lot of attention like you’ve been getting, people start gunnin’ for ya. And it won’t necessarily just be coming from my side, you understand. From yours, too. Everybody’ll be waiting for you to slip, know what I mean? So watch yourself.”
“Thanks for the advice, Mr. President.”
“All right. I gotta get going. You know, me and you got something in common.”
“We both had to debate Alan Keyes. That guy’s a piece of work, isn’t he?”
I laughed, and as we walked to the door I told him a few stories from the campaign. It wasn’t until he had left the room that I realized I had briefly put my arm over his shoulder as we talked – an unconscious habit of mine, but one that I suspected might have made many of my friends, not to mention the Secret Service agents in the room, more than a little uneasy.
– h/t: Fox News (hey folks, I watch them all), which told the hand sanitizer story this morning