Jodi Kantor’s book about the Obamas nabbed headlines at the beginning of the year. There was the accusation of a shouting match between Michelle and then-Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and the frenzy over the hush-hush “Alice in Wonderland” party at the White House. And even though the chatter around the book has declined (although there’s been some this week), there are still some revelations coming from it — like the interesting story about how a Rear Admiral flew to a swing set company to inspect the playground the Obamas wanted to get for their daughters.
That tidbit is thanks to David Remnick, a reviewer for the “New Yorker” magazine. Remnick reveals it during a discussion on how Kantor portrays the Obamas as a couple trapped inside the White House, secluded, with no real social lives:
The portrait that Kantor paints of the Obamas at home is an elaboration of her Times Magazine article and doesn’t much alter our previous impressions. The Obamas draw a pretty tight curtain around themselves. They eat dinner together in the residence at least five days a week. Michelle goes to bed at nine-thirty or ten, while the President does paperwork in the Treaty Room. They have a very small circle of friends. They do not go out of their way to seek out new people. (“The decision came with a price,” Kantor maintains, “reinforcing the already severe isolation of the presidency.”) The Obamas are “virtual prisoners” in the White House, something that rankles them both. The President tries to pierce the bubble by reading ten letters a day from ordinary people. Michelle shops online using a credit card registered to another name. When the Obamas wanted a swing set for their daughters, Sasha and Malia, the chief usher, Rear Admiral Stephen Rochon, visited the factory in South Dakota to inspect it. At Malia’s school, the fifth-grade band played once for the parents and siblings and once for Barack, Michelle, and Sasha. Michelle is the kind of helicopter parent that you might be if your helicopter was Marine One: she demands that Sasha and Malia finish their homework a day in advance when possible, and asks for written reports on their travels. She even persuaded the girls’ piano teacher in Chicago to relocate to Washington. When it comes to politics, Michelle presses the staff for clearly defined projects, no “one-offs,” but, in the end, won’t spend more than a couple of days a week on these projects. (Rahm Emanuel found her reluctance “maddening.”) [Emphasis added]
In case you forgot, the swing set story was popular for a brief time in 2009, and especially bolstered those who fancied the Obama administration as a new type of JFK “Camelot” with laughing kids brightening up the Oval Office:
The 100 percent cedar and North American Redwood structure has four swings, including a tire swing, a slide, a fort, a climbing wall and climbing ropes. There’s also a picnic table with brass plates etched with the names of all 44 presidents, she said.
“They ran right for it. They were really, really excited. All four of them,” McCormick Lelyveld said.
The girls played on the set for almost an hour in chilly weather, she said. Their mother went for a swing, too.
The Obamas paid for the swing set, which was made and installed by Rainbow Play Systems of Brookings, S.D. The company’s Web site says it’s the most trusted brand name in wooden swing sets.
Kantor’s revelation (via Remnick) will certainly have its critics (They have to send people out to “inspect” their daughters’ toys?), supporters (Is there any expense you’d spare for the safety of your kids?), and I-don’t-cares. But wherever you fall on the spectrum, past actions like flying in a chef for a pizza party won’t help.