One of my wife’s gigs when we lived in the DC area was working for the public TV station, WETA, which produced the annual PBS gala, “In Performance At The White House.” She was among the crew members working behind the scenes who were offered the opportunity to have their pictures taken, individually, with then-President George HW Bush.
We were not Bush fans, so Martha told me she was thinking of declining the offer and asked my opinion. In discussing it, I said that I understood her dislike of the man, but he was still the President of the United States.
I also reminded her that, thanks to my status as a highly-rated morning radio host on WCXR, I had been invited to attend the annual White House Easter Egg Roll under Presidents Reagan and Bush, both of whom I detested politically. I’d gone three years in a row to serve as one of the celebrity egg-signers, which involved sitting at a long table with a Sharpie and scribbling my name on the commemorative wooden eggs that kids found on the South Lawn. It was a goofy thing to do, but I appreciated the honor of being in that venue — including being cleared to enter the grounds in the first place by the Secret Service — regardless of who the Commander-In-Chief was.
She countered that there was so much abhorrent about Bush:
- He’d okayed the racist Willie Horton ad that Lee Atwater and others had constructed to attack Michael Dukakis (which wouldn’t seem out of place among today’s white nationalist appeals, and neglected to mention that it was Reagan who’d signed the first prison furlough program while governor of California).
- He’d chosen Dan Quayle as his running mate, the beginning of the dumbing-down of American politics that continues in a straight line through Sarah Palin and right up to Donald Trump.
- He was heavily anti-abortion, expanded the failed War On Drugs that put too many people (particularly of color) in prison, and vetoed a civil rights bill that would have increase job protections.
- He put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.
Plus, Bush was an avowed fan of the morning show on a competing radio station (Jim and Mary on country outlet WMZQ). How could Martha stand next to a man like that for a photograph?
She considered it for several hours, then came to the conclusion that it was the event, not the man, that mattered. She would have a permanent record of her role in producing a TV show at The White House, a proud moment in her career.
So, yes, she had her picture taken with President George HW Bush. We still have that photo — unframed, in one of the boxes in the basement we haven’t opened since we moved into our current house 20 years ago — and we still have some of those wooden eggs, too.
Yet, in retrospect, if offered those same opportunities today, I’m certain we would come to a different conclusion. Partly because we’ve grown even more disgusted by politics in the intervening decades. Partly because memorabilia of that ilk is less important to us. Partly because we have the benefit of hindsight, and despite all the kind words others have had for our 41st president, we still have a lingering bad taste in our mouths about him.
Of course, this wouldn’t even be a quandary now. Neither of us would want to have anything to do with the current occupant of the White House and the toxicity his administration breeds. We’d say no so quickly there isn’t a stopwatch in the world that could time it.
Even if he did like my radio show. Which he wouldn’t.