I went to the White House on Tuesday night, the eve of the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration. On January 20, 2009, Pennsylvania Avenue was packed with a sea of adoring people.
On Tuesday night, following Scott Brown’s seismic victory in Massachusetts, I decided to check out the White House grounds. I drove through Rock Creek Park and got to the White House pretty quickly, in about twenty minutes.
The grounds were eerily silent. They seemed abandoned and dead. Having been in the White House, I know what lights are part of the residence and the East and West Wings. The windows were dark. On the night of one of the greatest political upsets in modern electoral history, someone had ordered all the White House staff to go home. The last one had apparently turned out the lights.
Next door, the ornate Executive Office Building, which holds senior presidential aides, also was dark and bleak. The only presence of life on Pennsylvania Avenue was that of two lone uniformed executive police officers. The silence was palpable. Lafayette Park, the scene of countless boisterous anti-Bush and anti-war demonstrations, was vacant.
This was the look and feel outside the White House grounds after a political thunderbolt rocked the Washington establishment and Obama’s presidency. Despite the numerous reports that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel forces all staffers to burn the midnight oil night after night in pursuit of the president’s agenda, on Tuesday night it was devoid of people and energy.
At a street corner I noticed about a half a dozen young men in coats and ties, clearly presidential aides. Well, I guess not everyone had gotten the memo! The group gathered momentarily next to Blair House, the official guest house for visiting presidents and prime ministers. I caught up with them and asked if they were presidential aides. They turned and sort of grunted yes. They looked a little warily at me, but also expectantly, as if I might ask for an autograph. Or maybe inquire how it felt to work for a president.
Instead I asked them what they thought of the stunning result in the bluest state in the nation. They went from casual to frozen in a heartbeat. There was this single awkward moment. It was very dark. Brusquely, the tallest one repeated the protective mantra for those who work in nation’s capital: “We have nothing to say.” He turned away and briskly walked through Lafayette Park. He looked about 35-years-old. I think he was the group’s boss. The group trailed behind him.
The guy’s response sort of reminded me of a line from the comedy Hogan’s Heroes. Sgt. Schultz would repeat over and over again to his American POW’s: “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!”
Now the group were just silhouettes.
Happy anniversary, guys.