Without wishing to anticipate the outcome of next Tuesday’s presidential poll, I thought now might be a good time to offer some advice to President Obama. Should things go against him on the day, he has a few things still to look forward to. Along with the decent pension, life-time secret service protection, and multi-million dollar advance for his memoirs, there is one extra perk on losing office, the presidential library. A valedictorian repost to his critics, and a celebration of his continuing ability to attract millions of tax deductible dollars from his cronies.
During a recent trip around a few of the presidential libraries I noticed that you can tell much about the personality of the ex-president from the choices he makes in outfitting those repositories of the detritus of office. And nowhere is that personality laid bare more clearly than in the choices made in restroom design.
The rest rooms at the Lyndon Baines Johnson library in Austin, Texas, are a little shabby, indicative of better times past, basic but functional, and dark, very dark. Of course, the same could be said of LBJ when he left office. Broken by the experience of the Vietnam war, he was just looking forward to going home to his Texas ranch to grow his hair and smoke cigarettes.
At the Jimmy Carter library in Atlanta the urinals proudly announce that they are “waterless”. It took me a little while to figure out what this meant; a neat label with tiny print located just at the point of aim explains. Just as the Carter presidency began full of hope and expectation but ended in a busted flush, so the urinals at the Carter library, that rely on eco friendly chemicals to save on water, are actually a little smelly and unpleasant to use. The Carter lavatories have easy access though, suggestive of the open-door collegial management style that Carter sought to bring to the White House after the authoritarian regime of Richard Nixon and the interregnum of Gerald Ford. Energy saving bulbs cast a harsh and gloomy light, recalling the general lack of illumination that Carter brought to his policy priorities and to his relationship with Congress.
George H.W. Bush, on the other hand, presents an all together different face to history; brash, bright and shiny, his men’s room is huge, big enough to hold a convention. Sparkling chrome fittings, all the hot water you could need, dazzling white porcelain, colorful tiling, and mirrors, mirrors everywhere; all combine together to somehow give the impression of style over substance. “Read my lips”, you can almost hear him say – “no expense spared”, as the plump toilet rolls bulge in the stalls and too many automatic towel dispensers whirr on the walls. This is a high tech state of the art toilet, the Stormin’ Norman of lavatory technology, defiant, unnecessary, and eager to be remembered.
The Nixon library presents an all together more classy face to the male urinating public. Sober fittings under steady neon light, it is an honest American lavatory free of fancy imported garishness and unnecessary automation. Just like Mrs. Nixon’s coat, if you know your Checkers Speech. The china is clean with elegant lines, the seats are comfortable, and the stalls are each equipped with their own little bleach and brush set, no doubt to cover up any silly accidents that might occur. There were no taping devices that I could see, but then, you never really can tell, can you?
The George W. Bush library was not yet finished when I took my tour, and I look forward to inspecting the “facilities” at some point in the future. Given his legacy, it may be that President Bush shouldn’t bother with those other parts of the library. Along with neo-conservatism, Iraq, the social security fund, illegal immigration, the healthcare system, the housing market, and the banking system, maybe the whole damn thing could just be in the toilet.
Which brings me to Obama. If, on Wednesday morning, Michelle is on the phone making arrangements for the removal back to Chicago, and Joe Biden is booking a long vacation in Florida, he can at least console himself with the thought that there are still important choices to be made after the White House.