Contest: How Should Obamas Connect With D.C.?
In the holiday spirit, how about a contest? The president-elect and his wife said on television last week that they plan to be active in Washington--of course, it would be hard to be less a part of the city's life than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been. But just how can a president in this era of hypercautious security really engage with the city?
Come ahead with your suggestions about concrete ways in which the Obamas could make themselves at home in--or have an impact on--the Washington area. The best--smartest, funniest, most effective--of your ideas will win prizes from the Vast Vat of Values, so add your proposals on the comment board below and tune back in next week when I'll choose the winners. If your entry is selected, please email me with your name and address and I'll send out your prize.
To get you started, here are a few of the ideas some readers came up with (along with my responses) when I posed this question on my Potomac Confidential chat show here on the big web site last Thursday:
Rockville, Md.: How about a monthly or quarterly sit-down dinner in the White House for community District leaders and people of note? Let a few present ideas and have a discussion of what is of interest to the group. Then keep a working online group talking.
Marc Fisher: Ok, but presidents often come into office claiming that they're going to engage on District-centric issues, and then that just falls away. Remember Clinton's visit to Georgia Avenue in his first days in office? Nothing whatsoever came of that.
Washington, D.C.: What can Obama do for the city? How about re-opening Pennsylvania Avenue?! Or is that battle lost forever?
Marc Fisher: Forever's a fairly long time, but yes, that battle is lost. Will someone someday want to build a tunnel to connect the two pieces of Pennsylvania Avenue? Perhaps, but that would have to be in a time after terrorism, and it's hard to see that time from where we sit today.
Washington, D.C.: The new prez becoming part of D.C.: We know he plays basketball, so I think it would be great if the president used his powers of persuasion to institute a pre-season tournament among the area's colleges and universities -- AU, GW, G'town, Catholic, Howard, Gallaudet and, yes, George Mason and Maryland could all participate. Would some schools be overmatched? Yes. But the community building effect could be extraordinary -- especially with the president presiding over the first tipoff.
Marc Fisher: And given Obama's decision this week to use his bully pulpit on behalf of a national championship in college football, it's reasonable to think he might want to get involved in hoops, too. If he could overcome the longstanding inability of Maryland and Georgetown to get together to play one another, that would be a good start. Excellent idea...
Embracing D.C.: My suggestion for the President-elect would be to find some way of allowing east-west traffic through the Fortress White House zone, either on Pennsylvania Ave to the north or on E Street to the south. Various proposals have been made, but always rejected by the security-uber-alles forces. Pick a plan and tell your folks to implement it -- no excuses. It would go a long way toward reconnecting downtown with Foggy Bottom and reducing congestion, show that he actually cares about things outside the White House gate, and that he is calling the shots rather than the Secret Service that the President allegedly controls.
Marc Fisher: Sadly, I wouldn't expect this president to be the one who takes the lead in loosening security around the White House. It might not be too much to hope that he will tap the brakes on some of the homeland security hysteria, or perhaps take an interest in the horrific impression that our security mania makes on the Mall and at our national monuments. But the security apparatchiks are going to have Obama himself in a serious lockdown and the White House area is likely to stay just as difficult for commuters as it has been.
Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: The Obama daughters should attend a National Symphony Orchestra kids concert or two. Get 'em knowledged up about classical music.
Next time Chuck Brown plays Strathmore, Barack and Michelle should go to that. Besides the fact that Barack's favorite music is clearly compatible with the go-go swing, at the last show Chuck did out in North Bethesda, it was clear that Obama would have won an election in there 99.9 percent to .1 percent, with a .1 percent margin of error. Also, Huggy Lowdown called Chuck "the John McCain of go-go."
I call for Strathmore because it's such a classy joint (they could get a box!) and because security concerns should be fewer at Strathmore than if the Obamas just went to Zanzibar or whatever. Though I guess they could do that too.
Marc Fisher: It would be wonderful to see the oft-empty presidential box at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall get some use. Previous presidents, including W.'s father, got around town quite a bit and gave a real boost to cultural and arts groups, as well as local restaurants and other shops. This president has been almost alone in his lack of presence around town.
I wouldn't expect to see the Obamas out clubbing, but there's no reason they couldn't be regulars on the restaurant scene and certainly at local theaters, concert halls and sports events.
Alexandria, Va.: Instead of White House dinners for "people of note," Obama could continue an idea he used during the campaign. A couple of times, he held dinners with half a dozen or so supporters who made contributions during a specific interval. He could do the same without the contribution twist. Dinners could, perhaps, be organized around certain topics -- health care, education, or whatever -- but mainly the idea would be for the president to keep in touch with (at least a few of) the people.
Marc Fisher: One of the mandates Obama could fairly claim is the idea that voters didn't want their president to embrace a dumbed-down, anti-intellectual concept of the office. So it would make sense for him to restore the notion of the presidency as a sponsor of the arts and as an instigator of new ideas--Kennedy famously did that by hosting concerts and by inviting poets, philosophers and the like to the White House. That's a grand bipartisan tradition that I'd love to see Obama restore.
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