Life in the White House can be notoriously isolating. Harry Truman called the famous presidential residence, which boasts 132 rooms, “the great white jail.” Ronald Reagan labeled it a “gilded cage.” Bill Clinton, who liked the White House so much he sidled out with almost $190,000 worth of furniture, china, silverware, and decorative accessories when he left, called it both “the finest public housing in America” and “the crown jewel of the prison system.”
This federally funded Alcatraz-lite with servants, chefs, and a bowling alley isn’t all bad, of course. “To be sure,” as Kenneth T. Walsh wrote in “Prisoners of the White House,” his 2013 book on the subject, “the president deals with a particularly splendid form of isolation … [and] is pampered and privileged.” Also, unlike, say, Folsom Prison, where trapped inmates wistfully listen to passing trains, wishing they could join the rich folks eating in the fancy dining cars, the White House offers a pretty decent on-demand, taxpayer-funded private jet.
Unfortunately, recent events have left me wondering whether the endless list of White House amenities also includes a giant Anti-Self-Awareness Transmogrifier, conveniently located between the gluten-free flour garden and the ever-useful “Instantly Produce a Federally Employed Yes Man” call button. Speaking at commencement exercises at historically black Tuskegee University last Saturday, first lady Michelle Obama told a crowd of bright-eyed graduates the following: “The road ahead is not going to be easy. It never is, especially for folks like you and me.”