Obama's Awkward Group Photo
Bush is photographed aboard (gulp) an aircraft carrier, while Obama's staff is full genital protection mode.
Bush is photographed aboard (gulp) an aircraft carrier, while Obama's staff is in full genital protection mode.
(Interior blogger monologue: “I will NOT mention Sarah Palin in this posting… I will NOT mention Sarah Palin in this posting … I will NOT mention Sarah Palin in this posting. I will N--
Sarah Palin was in fine form at last week’s Republican Governors confe—
(We interrupt this posting. Mr. Buckley is being medicated. His post will resume shortly.)
There were some interesting photo ops last week. “Photo op” is, of course, the snappy abbreviation for “photo opportunity,” a late 20th-century coinage and one of the more curious phrases in the American language. Essentially, it means making politician or celebrity available for publicity. There is an implied suggestion of generosity. We’d really much rather not be photographed standing in front of Air Force One, or on this red carpet, but if you insist. I am a river to my people.
All of Obama’s advisors stood with appropriate rigidity, their hands folded—over their groins.
I first heard the phrase while working as a low-level ink-stained wretch in the White House in the early ‘80s—before you were born. It was there that I also heard other code-phrases: “drop-by,” “grip ‘n grin,” and “meet ‘n greet.” Respectively, these mean: dropping by a, say, reception but not staying long enough to get drunk; shaking hands of donors in order to provide them with a photo op (see above) so they can mount the resulting photo on their office wall in order to promulgate an exaggerated suggestion of intimacy. It is at a “meet ‘n greet” where one normally first encounters the prospective donors who with luck, will ascend to the Valhalla of the “grin ‘n grin.” Such are the f-stops on what Disraeli called “the greasy pole.” But to the photo ops….
On Veterans Day, President Bush spoke on the deck of the freshly-renovated USS Intrepid in New York. He spoke briefly, demurely and filially. “Veterans have inspired me. I was raised by a veteran.” Indeed he was—by one who flew missions during World War II, not off this deck, but off similar ones.
In one of those strange coincidences that America provides in almost gaudy abundance, President Bush’s Republican opponent in 2000 had flown missions off this very deck, as a freshly-minted Naval aviator, or “nugget,” in the parlance. His father, Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., commanded all Navy forces during the Vietnam War, including this very ship. His father, Admiral John S. “Slew” McCain, had commanded Carrier Task Force 38 during the final battles of World War II. The Intrepid was one of those ships, surviving among other things, a kamikaze strike.
The embedded irony of Mr. Bush’s appearance was that aircraft carriers have not always been the most congenial of venues for him, in particular the USS Lincoln. That ship is of course named for an Illinois legislator who became president at a troubled time and went on to emancipate the slaves, ultimately paving the way for the election of another Illinois legislator to the U.S. presidency. It was from the superstructure of the Lincoln that the now-infamous banner “Mission Accomplished” was draped when the President flew aboard one day in May 2003 to proclaim victory in Iraq. That bit of staging was effected by White House aides (peekabo, Karl), not, as subsequent spin had it once it had become clear that the mission was very far from accomplished, by the Lincoln’s over-enthusiastic sailors. Mr. Bush may not have uttered the actual words “Mission Accomplished” in his speech that day, but the phrase will forever adhere to his presidency and to his place in history.
Turning from the sublime (as it were) to the non-sublime: on Saturday, November 8, there was the wide -angle photo of Page One of The New York Times. President-elect Obama was presenting his “brain trust” to the nation—that is, the two dozen or so smart people who are going to figure out how to bring about change we can believe in. Let us hope they are all very brainy. We’re going to need a whole lot of brain matter in the days ahead.
But what was most apparent to your Beast correspondent was the body language. All the men, save for the one at the podium (P-E Obama) and the man to his left, stood with appropriate rigidity. One must hold oneself erect in the presence of the President-elect. All of them stand with their hands folded—over their groins. What’s going on here? Hear no evil, speak no evil, pee no evil?
I once reviewed a book for the Times about body language. This hands-folded over you-know-where posture is called—by the kind of people who study this sort of thing; I was only the reviewer—the “classic genital-protection stance.” So there you have Paul Volcker and Joe Biden and Larry Summers and all these Washington solons being presented to the nation and the press corps, and what are they doing? Hiding their candy, as the Lady Chablis used to say. Well, I suppose I would too, if I were being thrown to the Washington press corps.
But what stood out was the one man who was not covering his cacahuetes from the ravening beasts: Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff. Look at the photo; study it!—he’s going to be a part of your life for the next four years! He’s standing next to our next president, hands on hips, pelvis slightly out-thrust, jacket open. This, according to the (admittedly overheated) body lingo book, is called the “classic exposed genital posture.” It signifies lack of fear, indeed, the opposite. You want ‘em? Come and get ‘em! Not for nothing is this man’s nickname “Rahmbo.” This is going to be interesting: a four-year run of The West Wing, lots of frowning, earnest liberal staffers, striving to do good. (Honestly, truly, I do wish them luck.) Some will cover their genitals, and in all likelihood, in time, their hind-quarters. Meanwhile, it’s good to know that one among them will be standing firm, a man who requires no trench coat in order to flash. Read my hips. Lotsa new taxes!
Say, wasn’t Sarah Palin hot at the Republican Governor’s Associ—
Editor’s note: This concludes Mr. Buckley’s post.
Christopher Buckley’s books include Supreme Courtship, The White House Mess , Thank You for Smoking , Little Green Men , and Florence of Arabia . His journalism, satire, and criticism has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Esquire. He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Forbes FYI.