Fascinatingly Solipsistic

What’s the most incredible thing about living in the White House? Why, the royal treatment, of course!

Okay, so I needed to take a little break from studying Worker’s Compensation Law, right? It was a little before 11:00 p.m., I made myself a cup of coffee–it is exam time, after all, and I fully intended to get back to the books and outlines–and sat down to watch the local news and weather for a few minutes.

Here in Philadelphia, I like our local ABC affiliate, so channel six it was. Surprise, surprise, surprise, it was Barbara Walters and her hush-hush Most Fascinating Person of 2009 — First Lady Michelle Obama.

No big deal. You know me, I’m not so much into the personal criticisms of the president and his wife, as I prefer to criticize policy and ideology, making occasional exceptions for overt solipsism. Immediately I noticed that the First Lady looked nice. Not stunning, just nice. I’d never call Michelle Obama a looker, but of the times I’ve seen her on television and in photos, the Barbara Walters interview was perhaps the First Lady at her aesthetic best.

While I did not hear the question itself, when I tuned in it seemed as though Mrs. Obama was answering a question about her personal life, as she was talking about her packed schedule and how even a single, solitary hour during the course of an entire week to mindlessly surf through the television channels “feels like heaven.” As an extremely busy person myself, between family, work, school, America’s Right and our impending move … I could relate.

So, I took a sip of my coffee–still too hot–and decided to give the First Lady a chance, to maybe see how long it took before I shook my head or rolled my eyes. It didn’t take long. The next (and final) question from Barbara Walters:

BARBARA WALTERS: Do you ever walk through these rooms [in the White House] and pinch yourself and say “I’m here”?

I sat up in my chair. The more I learn about our nation’s founders and founding, the more I read the words of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the more I consider even John Adams’ brief time in a largely unfinished White House, the more fascinated I’ve become with the history of the American presidential home.

While I can’t say that I have presidential aspirations myself, I do remember back in January being asked by Joanna about the first thing I would do if I were ever elected president. Without hesitation, I told her that I would ask for experts well-versed in White House and presidential history to take me, room by room by room, and explain everything that happened in each. (That, and ask someone in the know if UFOs are real.)

To me, the White House is not only the office and home of the president of the United States, it is also a museum and, despite being built with slave labor, a tribute to America and American freedom. I recall reading last summer about how each first family has put their own stamp on the building–Jefferson built the colonnades, Harry Truman gutted the aging building and added a balcony, Jackie Kennedy changed the nature of the Lincoln Bedroom, just to name a few examples–and thinking about how I could never be so presumptuous as to change anything at all. The White House is the People’s House, after all — not mine.

So, when Michelle Obama was asked about how living and breathing and sleeping and walking and working and eating where so many great Americans had done the same before her, I listened.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Yeah, absolutely. There are moments when you are driving up to the White House at night, and the white lights are shining on this beautiful … this beautiful home. And you pull up to it and somebody opens the door and says: “Welcome home.”

Those are the times when you think: “Really. Wow. Okay. Here we go.”

Really? That’s what makes Michelle Obama pinch herself when it comes to living in the White House as First Lady? That’s what sticks out? So, to paraphrase, the most amazingly unbelievable part of living in a glorious sandstone monument to this free constitutional republic, this last great repository of freedom across the globe, is being treated like royalty?

Personally, I’d be rendered breathless when I looked up and saw, in some areas, the scorch marks still visible from 1814 when the British Army set the presidential mansion on fire, and when I considered that the entire building would have been scrapped by a lesser nation. Or perhaps my breathlessness would come while sitting in the East Room, the design and inspiration for which was from George Washington himself, in which while still unfinished the endlessly modest Abigail Adams used to hang laundry to dry. Or maybe, if asked what would make me pinch myself, it could be actually feeling the pallor of sorrow still hanging in the room where Abraham Lincoln’s son breathed his last on a Thursday, or running my fingers over the marble engraving of John Adams’ famous prayer, now hanging on a mantle in the main dining room.

Perhaps it was the fault of some lackluster editing on the part of ABC. I’d hate to think that, confronted with a question about a home with so much important American history, it is the butler-type service and the validated self-importance which sticks out in the mind of Michelle Obama. But, at this point, when it comes to ego it’s difficult to give her–or her husband, for that matter–the benefit of the doubt.

After all, these are the people who, confronted with an amazing and imaginative and symbolic gift from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, reciprocated by giving a collection of non-European-compatible DVD movies and a $15 die-cast metal model of Marine One, straight from the White House gift shop, as if to say “look at us, we have our own helicopter.” These are the people who believed that their presence alone could bring the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago.

Maybe I’m being too hard on her. Maybe a great answer to Barbara Walters’ question, something perhaps about being able to retrace the steps of Dolley Madison as she saved priceless art and artifacts from British flames, is sitting on the cutting room floor somewhere at ABC. But I doubt it. Everything about the president and his wife suggest that they believe themselves to be bigger than the White House, and bigger even than the nation as a whole. Michelle Obama only last year first became proud of the country which has afforded her and her husband so much opportunity, and we see his and her attitudes toward this great nation as they travel the world and blame America first, not to mention how at home they continue to trample upon the ideas and ideals of those who lived before them in that glorious sandstone tribute to freedom.

Nearly every day here in Philadelphia, I walk past the site of the home in which Thomas Jefferson sat, in a third floor study, and penned the Declaration of Independence. At that time, the intersection of Seventh and Market Streets marked the farthest reaches of what would be America’s first capital city, and everything to the west had been described as “open country.” Even just walking by, staring at a 20th century replica, I find it difficult to not feel the history, to not consider and wonder what Jefferson might think if he were able to stare out a third-floor window at America today.

If I ever have the chance to visit the White House, nonetheless the incredible honor of residing there, what would make me pinch myself? For me, especially if I were living there, it would undoubtedly be the honor of treading where so many great men and women have lived and worked, it would be the humbling reality of sitting where decisions were made to send our nation’s sons and daughters to war, and it would be the opportunity to awaken each day to the tremendous privilege of living in and leading a nation like this one. I could care less about who opened my door or parked my car.



  1. Anonymous says:

    I also thought she looked nice, too, and actually liked hearing about some of the stuff she had to say. I didn't catch the answer you caught in the same way though.

    It could have been editing because Glenn Beck's interview was edited really short and didn't have much to it. None of the interviews did.

    But I see what you mean about benefit of the doubt.

  2. Gail B says:

    What do you expect from a woman who became proud of her country only when her husband was railroaded into the White House?!

    Never before have I considered that any First Lady should ever have needed to attend a finishing school until Michelle Obama-Soetoro stepped into the limelight with bare arms and began fist-bumping!

    In 1953, my Girl Scout troop gave ourselves a trip to Washington, D.C. as a birthday celebration. We went to the White House, among other places. The District itself is steeped in history, but I remember the awe of realizing that I was walking in the footsteps of those whose very presence in past times were of incomprehensible importance to me and this great nation. It made me feel both humble and blessed.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What do you expect from the residents of the First Crib?

  4. Boston Blackie says:

    No editing needed, you just know that was all she had to say. It is ALWAYS only about the man(or in this case the woman) in the mirror.
    Growing up at the foot of the Bunker Hill Monument with the USS Constitution a block away, I was in awe of what a bunch of farmers had done because of taxation without representation. Our schools need to get back to teaching history to out kids. Today there is a battle going on in town because some transient yuppies who bought condos in the old navy yard want the Navy to stop with the USS Constitution's morning and evening colors as well as firing of the cannons because their guests have been disturbed while visiting. I can see Michelle complaining about historical events at the WH because it is not about her or her husband.

  5. ROCKY says:

    Cut her some slack dude, she has such nice arms.

  6. Anonymous says:

    It's good that they live there a while and get used to being around guards, if you know what I mean.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It's just government housing to them.

  8. GHANDI says:

    TOTUS just got his bowling trophy, I mean Peace Prize!!!

  9. SCIENCE GUY says:

    All those lights she likes driving up to, really should be off to cut CO2 emissions.

  10. 2012 says:

    I know two Alaskans that would appreciate the history of the house and country.

  11. Anonymous says:

    It's all relative… she looked OK, but compared to Laura Bush, not so much.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The ultimate Chicago politicians home….. far from the street…. impervious to Elliot Ness types.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Were those British in 1814 wearing red dresses and smiles and got in???

  14. Anonymous says:

    I though it was funny she was about to go on and on and on about the dog until Barbara cut her off on that topic.

  15. Anonymous says:

    A reality check. Abigail Adams hated living in the (then called) Executive Mansion. Jefferson, Dumas Malone tells us, "rattled" around the place. It was Dolley Madison who made it into a presidential residence that was fit for a Republic but could rival that of a monarch's — specifically the ministries of France and Britain in Washington, D.C. at that time. She loved French fashion, and bought what she could of it. She excelled at bringing just the right (republican) touch to entertaining and decor. And with all that, she would have loved an hour a week to just put up her feet and relax.

  16. Anonymous says:


  17. Anonymous says:

    Instead of watching mindless television, to quote her, for that 'hour a week' (yeh, right), she should be reading AmericasRight.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Having lived in Northern Virginia most of my life, I can relate to what you are saying Jeff. We moved here when I was 15 and we lived in the last development before Mount Vernon. The land our house was built upon was part of the estate. My dad used to tease my younger brothers and sisters that George chopped down the cherry tree in our yard. Our house faced Little Hunting Creek which empties into the Potomac and there was a small island there where we were told the bricks for Mount Vernon were made.

    We passed Mount Vernon quite a lot and I loved seeing the entrance to that place and knowing that George Washington, our first President, lived there. My respect for Washington has grown over time and I continue to live in historic areas. I currently own a historic house in Loudoun County. Our little town is the oldest smallest incorporated town in Virginia dating back to 1752 and each house has its own particular story.

    Washington's brother lived just outside the town so we know he passed through and probably frequented the town tavern. The town saw Lee's troops pass through here on the way to Gettysburg and also on the way back. The wounded were attended to by the town's people.

    Michelle Obama and the current president don't have time to ponder the history of this country since they are are so involved in "change". Change comes whether we like it or not because that is just life, but the kind of change they are advocating and initiating is destructive to the present, the future and makes a mockery of our past history.

  19. Walt says:

    Subsidized housing???

  20. Ian Thorpe says:

    The British set fire to The White House? I find that hard to believe, we're a nation of property developers, we would have converted it into luxury apartments.

    But I could not help noticting that again, as with all posts concerning life in TWH over the last year there is no mention of what has happened to proprty prices on Pennsylvania Avenue since the new people moved in.

  21. T.I.M. says:

    Personally, I missed the show, as my wife and I were watching a different show (CSI NY) about a crime being committed in a unique residence — so we didn't learn the "secret" person until this morning. I imagine ABC figured Barack was overexposed (or too busy with his Piece Prize speech), so Michelle — armed to the teeth — was the next best way to pay homage to our fearless (and peerless) leader.

    Personally, I found a very positive message in the article. While the present resident of the White House apparently spent his early years learning ways to take down this fine country, Jeff (and may your ardent journey end up in that DC neighborhood, one way or another), is striving for ways to build up and keep our country strong. Imagine where we'd be today if Barack had instead followed Jeff's selfless path. Mr. Schreiber: keep up the great work — our country needs you.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Anybody else get the feeling she is much closer to Bo, the dog, than B O himself?

  23. Anonymous says:

    If we really wanna delve into arms as a topic, Barbara, I gotta tell ya I'd much rather see Sarah's arms. That woman is as pretty on the outside as her soul is on the inside. I M H O

  24. goddessdivine says:

    Great analysis. I don't think we can expect someone who is recently proud of her country to know US history. With all that elite schooling I doubt she took American History 101. I had to roll my eyes at this choice of "the most fascinating person", but was at least grateful it wasn't Nancy Pelosi.

    Personally, I gagged when she claimed to being so "busy" this past year by enrolling her two daughters in a private school, visiting eight countries, and planting a garden. Yeah; I bet you're busier than the average Joe who is working two jobs so he can pay the money your husband is frivolously spending (and those "necessarily skyrocketing" energy costs).

  25. Anonymous says:

    Well Ian, if the British came back today, I have a feeling the only thing Michelle would save would be her hubby's Blackberry!LOL.


  26. Anonymous says:


    Why save his blackberry with nothing but sexts sent to himself on it?

  27. Anonymous says:

    jeff, i couldnt help but remember the first time i read with appreciation your use of the word "Solipsistic." As i recall you were persuaded to use it from an article you read or heard from an English commentator(?). as i recall it it seems a word reserved just for michelle.
    SHE COULD BE NO OTHER… at the end of the day it is who she is that gets in the way.

    my guess is if she had it over to do again she would have insisted on screening the questions first in order to literally, CRAFT something acceptable. in short order: a lie that has nothing to do with her real feelings. how sad to be so obviously superficial. it was exactly what she felt and it came tumbling out of her mouth before she was able to stop herself.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Never before have I considered that any First Lady should ever have needed to attend a finishing school until Michelle Obama-Soetoro stepped into the limelight with bare arms and began fist-bumping!

    with sincerity i say you spoke for me too.
    - i remember my feelings about the fist-pumping and the poor example it sends and that there are some things while hip is not the thing to be displayed by any first couple. YES, they are to be held to a certain standard, even when they dont want to be.
    - i dont know if they used what i once saw as what was supposed to be her OFFICIAL PORTRAIT to grace the white house, but i sincerely hope that someone talked her out of it because it was the attempt at posing sexy rather than stately and immediately i thought, "who does this? she really needs some coaching in the social graces."

    -another thing i hope she has corrected by now since i have posted about it from time to time in the past and that is this:
    she has a habit of what appears to be pulling snott through her nose. it seems habitual that she always seem to have some kind of sniffling going on and for the life of me i just cant understand KNOWING she had this problem, WHY, OH WHY isnt a hankerchief or kleenix of some sort readily available in her hand-held purse, a pocket or whatever, AND WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE ADVISING HER NOT TO POINT THIS OUT TO HER????

    -FINISHING SCHOOL NO.4 – the dreadful dress election night. HOW MANY PEOPLE SAW her in that dress and didnt do the necessary? or is she so pigheaded that she only listens to herself? surely by now she must know she does not have a good sense of fashion and need to rely on the advide of another?

    just amazing….

  29. Anonymous says:

    about her looking nice – - it seems when oprah is around she seems to have a different look perhaps oprah was there to give her a helping hand or at least steer her into choosing the right people to help her?

    i dint see the interview but if she turned up looking great i'm happy for her.

    i dont care for this administration but nontheless as a first lady i wish her to look her best and act accordingly at all times….

    reality and michelle being michelle it will be rare and far inbetween, i'm sure.

  30. Boston Blackie says:

    "Personally, I gagged when she claimed to being so "busy" this past year by enrolling her two daughters in a private school, visiting eight countries, and planting a garden."

    goddessdivine – she's also so busy that they haven't chosen a church yet. I saw an outtake of the interview where Michelle mentioned that she has spanked the kids. I am sure if that was Sarah Palin making that comment the lame stream media would be up in arms demanding children services investigate and remove the kids. But when it is a beautiful person's comments, they are just redacted.

  31. Anonymous says:

    some people truly shine with age. Like sally quinn, barbara walters gets duller by the week. i have an idea that in an effort to appear that she is still young at heart she has been outrageously surprising many people with her recent revelations and her take on things.

    NOW JUST WHERE DID BARBARA COME UP WITH THE IDEA THAT MICHELLE OBAMA IS ONE OF THE MOST FASCINATING PEOPLE OF THE YEAR?????? have you any idea how many thousands of people outrank michelle? a zillion right here and abroad she could have chosen someone like Natanyahu. she could have chosen the group of teaparty who made an outstanding in changing the minds of the american people and encouraged otherwise couch potatoes to re-connect with government and help shape this country into what we see not what obama hopes for. what about the brave people who were shot at Ft. Hood and the people who helped to take the sniper down?

    michelle obama as the most fascinating person of the year? Solipsistic!

  32. Anonymous says:

    SARAH PALIN is a much more fascinating person than michelle,and that has nothing to do with me being conservative Republican… IT'S JUST THE DARN TRUTH! just think of all that Sarah has endured and the galant way in which she handled it all ending a year with a bestSeller that people line up overnight to get signed and get a glimpse of Sarah.

    C'ON BARBARA… get real!
    or is it all a matter of politics before honesty with you?

  33. Anonymous says:

    from BostonBlackie:
    "goddessdivine – she's also so busy that they haven't chosen a church yet."

    now aint that the truth?
    i guess they are looking for one where the name Jesus is never mentioned and Christmas is never celebrated? what a way to bring up children – - CHURCHLESS?

  34. Roses, WA says:

    I'm delighted to hear that laying about surfing the cable channels isn't something she gets to do as much as she would like… she may be the queenbee but she's paying the price of that title, in ways she never imagined :-)

    So maybe she won't grouch too much when Barry gets kicked out :-)

  35. Anonymous says:

    Most Fascinating President-Elect 2012
    Sarah Palin

  36. Anonymous says:

    Solipsism is the philosophical idea that one's own mind is all that exists.

    That nails it Jeff.
    Can one lose their mind if they feel it is all that exists? Let's hope so. We have a 25th amendment for a reason.

  37. Anonymous says:

    that was more like:

    Most Fascinating Choice For Most Fascinating Person

    What a farce.

  38. AARP says:

    Why don't shallow, very aged, inadequate journalists ever just retire and go ride horses or something?

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