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September 8, 2011

The President of the United States Requests Permission to Enter!

Pete Souza/White House

Though the Souza photo is a year old, it’s interesting seeing it show up now in TIME’s “Walter Reed Hospital: End of an Era” slideshow.

I’m sure the White House thought this scene conveyed sensitivity and a sense of respect, the President knocking first at the vets door intending to present him or her with a purple heart. Given the country’s political straights and what we’ve observed of Obama so far, however, I imagine others might argue the photo (beyond documenting the President’s obsequious toward the military) captures a dramatically different quality — one reflecting on leadership and authority.

In contrast to other presidential pics in the show, in which we see Harding and Bush in the presence of the recovering fighting men, we see Obama — in a task more typically associated with an aide — informing us he’d rather “ask first.” There’s not only that, however, but the added element of the woman soldier’s face, the concerned look broadcasting the risk, in the mere approach, that the Commander-in-Chief and the most powerful man on planet Earth, could either be ignored or turned away.

While trying to imagine a JFK, LBJ or Bill Clinton posing in similar fashion (as I kill time before Obama’s big jobs pitch to Congress in a couple-of-hours), I flash on more current parallels. Shift the setting to the last couple of mind-numbing budget battles, for example, and the halls of Congress, and I’m wondering: is it that hard to see POTUS standing there, instead, at the door to Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader McConnell’s office?

(photo: Pete Souza/White House caption: President Barack Obama knocks on the door before entering a soldier’s room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Aug. 30, 2010. The President met with 24 wounded warriors who served in Afghanistan, five who served in Iraq, and honored 11 soldiers with the Purple Heart. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

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