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June 7, 2010

Obama Straightening it Out?

“President Barack Obama straightens a painting in the Oval Office, May  10, 2010.” Pete Souza/White House
“President Barack Obama straightens a painting in the Oval Office, May 10, 2010.” Pete Souza/White House

A humorous illustration of President Obama’s fabled love of order and attention to detail? A visual gesture to his everyman willingness to chip in and do the work himself? Maybe. But this month-old photo showed up yesterday morning on the White House Flickr Photostream amid a deluge of pics designed to illustrate the President’s intense engagement with events in the gulf.

In Sunday’s New York Times Frank Rich argued that Obama’s orderly habits of mind and faith in elites are hurting his ability to be a transformational leader. In that context we might want to look again at Obama’s interest in making things “just so.” The President grasps each side of the frame firmly, seemingly using his whole upper body to steady it (note the tight grip on the frame and the pull of his jacket across his back). Yet all that effort is going toward only the most minor of adjustments to the landscape. And what of that other landscape, the oil-stained one far away from Thomas Moran’s idealized mountains and trees?

Straightening that out may require more than a full-body effort designed to achieve only minor adjustments.

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