WASHINGTON, April 2, 2012 — There I was, last Thursday, sitting in the Rose Garden of the White House, waiting for Barack Obama. Ok, me and 160 other people. We had been invited to hear the President speak at one of those ceremonies you see on the evening news but were not told ahead of time the topic.
Who cared? I was just excited to be there. He could announce it was national hot dog month or tell us about his trip to South Korea, having just returned the day before, and I’d been happy.
It all began with the invitation to be at a certain gate to the White House by 9:45. My hour and half trip into D.C. turned into two and half hours, thanks to an accident heading in, but I had allotted enough time and showed up at 9:40, out of breath, but there.
The security, as you can imagine, was tight. First I had to get past an unsmiling White House guard. Next I was twice checked for ID to prove I was on the list. I was scanned twice and had to do the airport security thing as well.
Then we were all ushered into the East Wing of the White House and I took quick peeks down the corridors as we passed through. Marines, both men and women, looking snappy in their dress blues, warmly greeted us everywhere we went.
Then as I stepped through the door into the Jackie Kennedy Garden of yellow tulips, I heard the snappy beat of a jazz band. Sure enough there was a Marine band serenading us with classical jazz. It was like a lovely party at your rich aunt’s house, only no gin and tonics were served, only water by waiters in white jackets.
Since we weren’t able to bring any drinks inside, I am guessing they decided to keep us hydrated but shied away from any drinks that could be used as a lethal weapon.
The gathering crowd was dressed in their best go to the office clothing, which meant black, dark grey, or deep blue. I had decided on a red coat to be a little more snazzy. A few other women obviously had decided to go to the flamboyant route as well. So we were definitely the robin redbreasts in the crowd.
Then the Marines came over, leading us down a path that circles just below the balcony of the living quarters to the Rose Garden. I was struck by the tranquility of the setting and the fact that while I could see cars off in the distance, not a sound from streets penetrated this oasis.
Again more tulips in a profusion of pink, red, and yellow. A man behind me said to his friend, “Where are the roses? I thought this was the Rose Garden?” I guess no one told him that roses traditionally don’t appear until late May or June, even with global warming.
We were ushered to our seats and then began the half hour wait, but I figured President Obama would not come bounding out of the Oval Office as soon as we sat down. However, you could tell when the big moment was nearing as the photographers gathered under the portico and the cameramen took their positions behind nine different TV cameras. Of course, the dead give away was the guy who came out with a glass of water to put on the podium.
Next a group of people materialized from the West Wing and lined up on the steps behind the podium, squinting into the sun and looking very ill at ease facing us and the phalanx of TV cameras.
Suddenly the door to the Oval Office, which is just off the Rose Garden, opened and the President strode out with a real bounce in his step, smiling broadly as a disembodied voice announced, “The President of the United States.” We all stood and applauded.
He thanked us for coming. Was he kidding? I was delighted to be there. Then he apologized for being late and said at least we had a beautiful day to enjoy the garden. And it was. Picture perfect.
Then the President launched into a fiery speech on how Congress must stop the subsidies, aka tax breaks, for Big Oil. It was now 11 o’clock and he knew the Senate was about to vote on a bill to do just that.
Here is only part of what he said:
“Right now, the biggest oil companies are raking in record profits – profits that go up every time folks like these pull into a gas station.
“But on top of these record profits, oil companies are also getting billions a year in taxpayer subsidies – a subsidy they’ve enjoyed year after year for the last century.
Think about that. It’s like hitting the American people twice. You’re already paying a premium at the pump right now. And on top of that, Congress thinks it’s a good idea to send billions more of your tax dollars to the oil industry?”
Obviously they did, because an hour later, thanks to Republicans voting unanimously to keep the tax breaks for Big Oil, the bill was defeated.
But sitting in the Rose Garden, listening to the President, knowing this is where John-John Kennedy played as a toddler and where Tricia Nixon was married in 1971, I just soaked up the history.
Following his speech, President Obama spoke briefly to and shook the hands of the people who stood on the steps behind him before giving us one last wave as he headed back into the Oval Office.
The Marines escorted us to the great driveway behind the house to the gate. I took my time moving along, soaking in the glorious rolling lawn, fountain, and spring flowers against the back drop of the Washington Monument, reminding us how this all began.
As I came around the back of the Oval Office, I was amazed to see a children’s swing set, brown and green right outside the Oval Office windows. It had been put up for the Obama children shortly after the First Family moved in. That swing set could have been tucked discreetly away anywhere on the grounds, but it was evident the President wanted to be able to look out his window and see his girls at play.
Then it was back to the gate at the bottom of the driveway. The roar of Washington traffic greeted me, bringing me back to reality.
Now I know I sound star-struck and I was. You can feel the history, especially in the Rose Garden, so the awe factor soars. Someone asked me if I would have been as giddy if it had been George W. Bush at the podium. Probably not.
But I would have been as excited and happy to be there. Being with the President — whatever his Party — is pretty heady stuff.
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