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June 18, 2012

Obamas Atop One World Trade Center: The Nation’s Clean Up Man

Over the past four years, Barack and Michelle Obama have often been pictured as an affectionate power couple. During Friday’s tour of the One World Trade Center building in lower Manhattan, Reuters photographer Kevin Lamarque captured another tender presidential moment. This one is clearly dominated, however, by the solemn reminder of the 9/11 Memorial below. It’s a powerful glimpse into the way national trauma has inevitably shaped the psychological (and media) contours of the Obama presidency.

From this vantage point atop the nation’s most symbolic reclamation project, there is the unmistakable and very material reference to the terror era and the tenure of George W. Bush. It’s a legacy that Obama refers to only obliquely on the campaign trail as “the last decade,” the recovery process having unmistakably defined his first term. Instead of looking back, however, the Obamas insist on looking forward, and for that they both will make repeated inclusive and emotional appeals to “us,” “we,” and “working together.” Which is very much in keeping with the way the Obamas handle the public expression of their private lives. As that expression adapts ever more closely to the demands of campaign season, photographs like this show us an image-savvy president who keeps a fixed eye on a role he fully inherited but hardly ever refers to, as the nation’s clean up man.

– Phil Perdue

(photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters. caption: U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama look down at the 9/11 Memorial while touring the One World Trade Center building which is under construction in New York June 14, 2012.)

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