The Rug Fixation?

Mary Katharine Ham
|
Posted: Mar 07, 2006 9:09 AM

According to the Washington Post, Bush has a fixation on his Oval Office carpet:

For whatever reason, Bush seems fixated on his rug. Virtually all visitors to the Oval Office find him regaling them about how it was chosen and what it represents. Turns out, he always says, the first decision any president makes is what carpet he wants in his office. As a take-charge leader, he then explains, he of course made a command decision -- he delegated the decision to Laura Bush, who chose a yellow sunbeam design.

Elizabeth Vargas, the ABC News anchor, was the latest to get the treatment. She went by last week to interview Bush before his trip to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Sure enough, she wasn't in the room but a minute or two before he started telling her about the carpet.

"You know an interesting story about the rug?" he asked. "Laura designed the rug."

"She did?" Vargas said.

"Yeah, she did. Presidents are able to pick their own rugs or design their own rugs."

Bush went on: "The interesting thing about this rug and why I like it in here is 'cause I told Laura one thing. I said, 'Look, I can't pick the colors and all that. But make it say 'optimistic person.' "

First, it's a beautiful rug.

Now, I think it's interesting that Bush tells everyone about the rug. This is an interesting story. It offers some clues to his character, a little window onto what the President believes is important about himself. It shows his optimism is important to him-- that's the way he wants to be seen. By choosing furnishings for the Oval Office that reflect that optimism, he shows he wants to impart optimism to visitors and world leaders.

I'd say that's about as apt a metaphor for the Bush doctrine as any. No wonder he uses it all the time. Frankly, I think it's pretty clever. The Oval Office is a powerful place and a powerful symbol. Presidents have been manipulating its furnishings and appearance for years to reflect the images they want to cultivate. The Post concedes this point by listing some other examples:

"They use the office's imagery," said Fred I. Greenstein, a professor emeritus at Princeton University who has written on presidential leadership. He recalled John F. Kennedy's son John peeking out from under the desk, an image that conveyed youth and family. Lyndon B. Johnson, who was obsessed with breaking news, kept a ticker-tape machine and three television sets in his Oval Office. Ronald Reagan's aide Michael K. Deaver revamped the lighting to make it better for television addresses.

Yet the Post won't give Bush any credit for recognizing the Oval Office as a symbol of his presidency and decorating it accordingly.

For Bush, it is a "fixation"-- some sort of odd preoccupation. Interesting story. Cut a bit of the condescension and we've got a winner.