I don’t know how many Americans in their life get to visit the White House and meet the president, but it is the greatest advertisement for the United States I know.
Through all the trials and tribulations from the American Civil War to scandal to gridlock to griping, the symbols endure, none greater than the White House and the institution of the presidency itself.
At this time of year in particular Washington is special – the capital is glistening, the dome on Capitol Hill is utterly resplendent against the night sky.
To paraphrase William Wordsworth:
“Dull would he be who could pass by – a sight so touching in its majesty”
The White House itself is ablaze with color. Right inside the door Santa Claus plies his trade grabbing the little kids as they walk in.
Some not so little kids too want to pose with White House Santa Claus and he obliges all with a hearty ho! Ho! Ho!.
Farther down in the East Wing the boys and girls choir from Washington schools are angelic in their appearance and soar to the heights with “Come All Ye Faithful” and other Christmas arias.
There are Christmas trees festooned with lights everywhere. In the First Lady’s room Jackie Kennedy and Mamie Eisenhower beam down, their portraits set off in fine relief by the Christmas lights.
Up the stairs on the left the more recent presidential portraits hang, George Bush Senior, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan all gazing down benignly on what I’m sure was their favorite time of year too in the people’s house.
Along the large hallway and leading back downstairs the line-up to meet the First Couple begins. There are red cards and white cards which simply mean early or later whichever one you get. This year my daughter Alana and I get the red card and are among the first fifty or so in line.
Down the stairs and round the corner and into a large adjacent room where suddenly, Barack Obama and Michelle appear like Christmas magic as you round the corner.
You have a minute or so before the photographs are taken. I thank him for the executive order on immigration which will hopefully help thousands of Irish, I tell him.
He says he is very proud of it and glad that the Irish are involved with it.
Michelle nods when the topic is raised with her. It is clear they are strongly behind the executive order.
The cameras flash and we are on our way back up the stairs to the East Wing proper, with its marvelous history and sense of wonderment. Lincoln walked and worked here, so did JFK and the legends of America for centuries now.
There are good friends to meet from the journalism and political world, the feeling is festive but a calm before a storm – the question of whether Hillary will run, the great game for the next occupant has begun.
The man from the Wall Street Journal puts it best. Nobody knows nothing and whoever says they do is lying. The game has not kicked off yet.
Two hours later Alana and I leave and promptly get lost on the way out. A kindly policeman whose mother was O’Shea from Killarney sets us right. As we leave I take a look back. There are few times in life as precious as this. It is America’s greatness I see as I look at the people’s house, designed by an Irishman James Hoban, glittering against the night sky.
Every American should witness it once. We’d all be so much prouder of this country if we did.
It is the enduring symbol of all that has taken centuries to build and has led the world.