“Keep him at least three paces distant who hates bread, music, and the laugh of a child.” – Johann Kaspar Lavater, Aphorisms on Man, 1788
“For all the years he was president,” Armey told me, “Bill Clinton and I had a little thing we’d do where every time I went to the White House, I would take the little name tag they give you and pass it to the president, who, without saying a word, would sign and date it. Bill Clinton and I didn’t like each other. He said I was his least-favorite member of Congress. But he knew that when I left his office, the first schoolkid I came across would be given that card, and some kid who had come to Washington with his mama would go home with the president’s autograph. I think Clinton thought it was a nice thing to do for some kid, and he was happy to do it.” Armey said that when he went to his first meeting in the White House with President Bush, he explained the tradition with Clinton and asked the president if he would care to continue it. “Bush refused to sign the card. Rove, who was sitting across the table, said, ‘It would probably wind up on eBay,’” Armey continued. “Do I give a damn? No. But can you imagine refusing a simple request like that with an insult? It’s stupid. From the point of view of your own self-interest, it’s stupid. I was from Texas, and I was the majority leader. If my expectations of civility and collegiality were disappointed, what do you think it was like for the rest of the congressmen they dealt with? The Bush White House was tone-deaf to the normal courtesies of the office.”
That story was published in The Atlantic in September 2007, in an article on The Rove Presidency. I’ve remembered it quite a few times since, because Dick Armey was not someone I liked or respected or would have thought I shared any values with at all. But it turned out that we did share just one value, a tiny one: because I liked him for doing this, and I liked Clinton for giving him the means to do it – and if I could have disrespected Karl Rove and George W. Bush any more than I already did, I would have, for refusing a colleague something that would have meant much to him and cost them nothing at all.
I have no idea how John McCain would behave, with Karl Rove at his elbow, if requested to do something like this. (And if McCain’s in the White House, Karl Rove will be at his elbow.)
But if Barack Obama’s in the Oval Office next year, and his least-favourite member of Congress asks him to autograph and date a name badge so he can give it to the next kid he sees… I’m absolutely certain that President Obama would grin, sign, and hand the badge over.I was reminded of this story again by Elle’s post on What the Election Means to her son. Check out the photos there… and even more on Yes We Can (Hold Babies).