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Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Doing Good - When The White House Becomes The Holy Of Holies

“We are here to do good”, the President said to a group of supporters in Sioux City.  “We are the party of good, in fact, and as Rosa Parks said as she got off the bus, the bus that had driven her across the Pettis Bridge to freedom…”.  Here the President paused.  Sunlight had filtered down through the rafters and flickered on the podium.  For a moment he was taken back to Rehoboth and the morning light on the water, his mother at his side watching him down to the surf’s edge, catch the ebbing end of a wave, fill his bucket, and fill the moats and rivers he had built in the sand.  “It was a good time”, the President went on, somewhere between the Pettis Bridge and the Delaware shore, for both were good and in the right place at the right time.  “A very good time”.  The shills in the audience began clapping, and everyone took up the applause.  The President smiled, looked to his aide and whispered, “Am I done?”, and like a lover with a gentle hand on his back , the aide led the President to the wings.

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“You did just fine, dear”, his wife said once they were in the presidential limousine. 

The ‘doing good’ campaign had been the work of Price Easterly, a black man recruited from the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia, a brilliant master of prosody who gave inspiration to thousands.  His sermons, delivered in his operatic basso profondo  shook the church from altar to choir and amens and hallelujahs were heard from beginning to end.  ‘We are here to do good’ was the meme of the campaign, and the President had done well to recite the phrase in Sioux City.  While Pastor Easterly had prepared much more for the President, elaborating on the theme of doing good – raising the black man to his rightful place at the top of the social pyramid, living the life of the thousand genders offered to us, removing all glass ceilings, and distributing America’s wealth to the poor –Biden, lost again at Rehoboth, managed only the first line. 

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The Reverend Easterly seemed to be everywhere, and gradually became one of the President’s most trusted advisors.  Told to play down the religious angle of doing good, he found ways to abide by the President’s rock-bottom, bricks-and-mortar secular message while never backtracking on his profound Christian beliefs.  In fact he had been chosen because he was cast in the same mold as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Martin Luther King – all ordained ministers or the Lord but field generals in the progressive crusade for social justice.  Personally he knew that Jesus was behind whatever goodness he and the President might accomplish, but he kept his own counsel and danced lightly around the issue of faith.

The White House under Biden had already assumed the role of progressive omphalos – the spiritual and moral center of the nation – so the ‘doing good’ campaign was more of an auxiliary notion than a foundational principle.  That had been assured shortly after taking office when the progressive litany of race, gender, and ethnicity had been enshrined in liturgy, litany, and the Order of the Mass.  ‘Doing good’ was an accentuator, a reminder of the central purpose of the Biden Administration.

The White House, under the guidance and tutelage of the Reverend Easterly and the President’s most committed advisors, had in fact become a secular church.  It had articles of faith, a consecration, saints and symbols of belonging, prayers, incantations, and hymns.  As in the recitations of the church, the words of the White House were almost always said in unison.  Just as there could be no disharmony in the reading of the Psalms or singing An Almighty Fortress there could be no disagreeable noises from the congregation.  The black man was a saint, transgenders were acolytes, and Hispanics were altar boys.  The ‘More Perfect Union’ enshrined in the Constitution had become a reality in the Biden White House.  It had come to represent all races, genders, and ethnicities in one holy juncture.  Or course the drafters of the Constitution never envisaged a republic in which ‘union’ meant separate places within one society; but interpretation being what it is, the President saw perfection in a smattering of individuals who looked different.

Curiously the White House also began to look like a bourgeois Victorian parlor, all doilies and antimacassars, settees, and bibelots.  Of course there was a certain interior decoration protocol which could be adjusted but never tampered with.  Portraits of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams had to remain despite their somewhat questionable past, but progressive tchotchkes were everywhere – photos of former slave women, Harvey Milk, and Cesar Chavez; glass objets d’art commissioned by Dale Chihuly, fanciful twists on the rainbow flag, and gay representations of Rodin’s The Kiss.  Tea services were unique reinterpretations of the Lascaux cave paintings – gay men frolicked on cups and saucers.

It was a horrible, meretricious place, the White House – all its stateliness, history, and subdued honor were gone.  No more Pablo Casals or Robert Frost, but Rihanna and Beyoncé.  No more Fourth of July but Pride Month – the most important period of the year for the Biden White House, and the rooms were filled with gay memorabilia, miniature log cabins, photos of the San Francisco Bay to Breakers gay parade and the S&M Folsom Street Fair, and rainbow flags everywhere.  The arrangement, however, was not incidental and was carefully done by a Philadelphia wedding planner known for his extravaganza and ‘popular’ taste (ice sculptures, fantastical arbors and trellises, white organza and bursting floral bouquets). 

To be fair, the White House finally looked like America – not so much for the multi-colored faces of the staff, but for its very South Philly low-brow feel.  The President had grown up with pictures of the Sacred Heart, Atlantic City souvenirs, and tassled lamp shades, so the interior decorations were familiar – the themes and personalities of course had changed, but the very working man feel to the place was familiar.

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As importantly, all these tchotchkes and bibelots were important reminders to do good.  As the President’s acuity dimmed and he often faded from the here and now, these aide memoirs kept him at least on the broad highway of his ideas.  Doing good was everywhere he looked.   The staff of course was increasingly watchful in his public appearances.  God only knew where his mind would take the President, and they were ready to usher him off stage in case his flights of fancy became too aimless; but all in all the ‘Doing Good’ campaign kept the President more or less on message and was itself a good thing.

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