Nothing says power like the Oval Office. The paintings of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The bust of Dwight D. Eisenhower. The desk used by both Roosevelts.
And then there's the rug. Don't forget the rug. President Bush never does.
For whatever reason, Bush seems fixated on his rug. Virtually all visitors to the Oval Office find him regaling them about how it was chosen and what it represents. Turns out, he always says, the first decision any president makes is what carpet he wants in his office. As a take-charge leader, he then explains, he of course made a command decision -- he delegated the decision to Laura Bush, who chose a yellow sunbeam design.
Elizabeth Vargas, the ABC News anchor, was the latest to get the treatment. She went by last week to interview Bush before his trip to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Sure enough, she wasn't in the room but a minute or two before he started telling her about the carpet.
"...Presidents are able to pick their own rugs or design their own rugs."
Bush went on: "The interesting thing about this rug and why I like it in here is 'cause I told Laura one thing. I said, 'Look, I can't pick the colors and all that. But make it say 'optimistic person.' "
(not "strong, decisive leader"?)
Bush has his own touches in the Oval Office -- some Western-themed paintings and an on-loan bust of Winston Churchill courtesy of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But it is the rug that animates the president.
"He loves his rug," said Nicolle Wallace, the White House communications director. "I've heard him describe it countless times."
Sometimes Bush describes it as a metaphor for leadership. Sometimes he relates how Russian President Vladimir Putin admired the carpet. Sometimes he seems most taken by the lighting qualities.
Not only does the president describe the rug to journalists and foreign leaders, he does so to virtual visitors. During "An Oval Office Tour With President George W. Bush" on the White House site ( http://www.whitehouse.gov ), he wastes no time pointing out the carpet. "It helps make this room an open and optimistic place," Bush tells viewers.
Bush doesn't need the Oval Office to talk about the Oval Office carpet. Lately he's been taking the story on the road, sharing it with workers at a moving company in Sterling on Jan. 19, then with students at Kansas State University on Jan. 23, and again with supporters at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry on Feb. 1.
"If you walk in that Oval Office," Bush said in Sterling, "I think you're going to say, just like you know it, 'This guy's optimistic.' "
It's just plain freaky. I'm not sure if it's an indication of the lengths to which Bush will go to bolster his own Reaganesque mythos (Optimism! Sunny nobility!), or some kind of derangement, or that he just REALLY loves that rug. If only Laura had patterned it after the Constitution...