A little respect, please

Suhail Khan Institute for Global Engagement
Font Size:

Like most of us, I normally ignore or delete the many e-mails of jokes, partisan trivia and the like often forwarded to me. However, I found one such recent e-mail, which included a White House photo, especially troubling.

The candid shot captures a moment of President Barack Obama with his senior team, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, chief economics adviser Larry Summers, and his senior adviser David Axelrod in the White House Oval Office. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this particular photo offers much insight regarding our commander in chief’s attitude towards his office. The photo features President Obama with his feet up on the Resolute Desk—so called because the storied piece of Oval Office furniture was made from timbers recovered from the British HMS Resolute which, when stranded and abandoned in Artic waters, had been recovered by American whalers and restored to the British in a gesture of goodwill. In gratitude, Queen Victoria had the large partner’s desk made from the ship’s timbers and gifted it to President Rutherford B. Hayes and the American people in 1880.

The Resolute Desk has since been used by many American presidents including FDR, JFK and Ronald Reagan. Indeed, who can forget the endearing 1962 photo of a young John Kennedy, Jr. peeking out from under the historic desk as his father sat working on the nation’s business? Or the enduring images of President Ronald Reagan, seated at the same desk, delivering so many addresses to the nation, including on the tragic occasion of the 1986 NASA space shuttle Challenger disaster? One can only imagine the number and nature of weighty decisions that have been made over many years by the many American leaders of the free world while seated before that very desk in the White House Oval Office.

Many preceding presidents wouldn’t go as far as to even enter the Oval Office without a suit and tie, much less use this very important and public office in an informal or casual manner. And yet, while conferring with his senior aides in the Oval Office, President Obama obviously feels it appropriate enough to prop-up his feet on the historically significant nineteenth-century Resolute Desk. Perhaps its the age in which we live, or a new time of informality, but I’m sure I’m not alone in being just a bit uneasy with such a disregard for the highest American office, however small or insignificant the gesture may be. In the grand scheme of things, putting one’s feet up on White House furniture isn’t akin to the high crimes and misdemeanors of say Watergate or even President Clinton’s antics with interns and the like, but President Obama’s callous gesture demonstrates a significant lapse of respect for our highest office.

Now, I’m not calling for an apology, or for Americans to inundate the White House with books on manners and civility, or anything of the sort. I’m just making a humble plea, in the immortal words of Aretha Franklin, for a little respect. And maybe I should just let it go, but going forward, President Obama would do well to heed the time-honored admonition of my dear mother—and indeed mothers everywhere—to keep one’s feet off the furniture.

Suhail A. Khan serves on the Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union.