Is this racist? Unprofessional? Ignorant? -UPDATED

The New Republic’s James Gardner has taken a look at the drawings for the George W. Bush Presidential Library, and while the knee-jerk negativity is adolescent and predictable, it ends up on a rather bizarre note, for a grown-up, professional publication.

We begin with the obligatory, “the last Democrat’s library is better,” sniff:

There is a hard-edged and unapologetic modernity to the Clinton Library . . . Though some (including Clinton himself) have compared this long and rectangular structure to a double-wide trailer, with all its unsavory associations, the building still achieves a certain elegance, presence, and functionality.

But of course. And now, Gardner’s thoughts on the Bush Library:

Slightly dowdy, to judge from the drawings, it vaguely recalls, in its emphatic horizontality, the Prairie Style of Frank Lloyd Wright. At the same time, however, some parts of the building, especially the Texas Rose Garden, will be adorned with pale Doric columns that bring to mind the idiom in which James Hoban conceived The White House.

The one interior rendering I have seen promises a soberly granitic foyer, whose ceiling is pierced by a banistered oculus that looks as though it might be quite fun. As with most architectural renderings these days, this one includes a few humans, but in a way that is inadvertently humorous. Overwhelmingly male and entirely pale, they look, in their buttoned down ties and gray suits, like the living equivalent of the building itself. You could well believe that they are on their way to an editorial meeting of The Wall Street Journal. And you already know for whom they voted in the past 20 presidential elections.

Emphasis mine. Gardner, or perhaps TNR was so amused by his application of snobbish bigotry-rendered-safe-via-political-correctness, that the joke was more or less repeated in the slideshow’s second illustration. The caption reads:

So clever, my sides hurt.

I count 5, or perhaps 6 females in the picture, and of the six identifiably male figures, one, perhaps two of them, could be “men of color,” unless of course one can’t think beyond stereotypes, in which case one might not recognize such figures without thug attire and whatever the cliche de jour is for Hispanics, this week.

Hey, some of those figures may be gay or transgendered people, too! They’re not wearing signs about it, though, and no one is “obvious” in a stereotypical way, so that racist George W. Bush -and his Architect- must hate them, too; otherwise, such minorities would be highlighted to show inclusion and sensitivity. Or something.

The people in the picture just look like people. Undivided by identity markers; respectable enough, simply for being people. That should be a good thing, you’d think.

But if we can’t sort out folks by their appearances -if we can’t quickly categorize them and presume to know all about them, what they think and how they vote, simply by looking at them – how can we show how noble and umm . . . ostentatiously tolerant, colorblind and cool. . . is our racially fixated narrator.

How tiresome. They’re all so tiresome

But this childish stinkbomb does remind me of a great anecdote about President Bush.

Louise Casselman, who was at that White House Yale reunion with her husband, Kirk Casselman and a Bay Area contingent, says that although Yale was still all-male in 1968, one alum has since had a sex-change operation. “You might remember me as Peter when we left Yale,” said the woman upon coming face to face with the president. George W. didn’t pause for a moment, reports Casselman, grabbed the alumna’s hand, and said “Now you’ve come back as yourself.”

That story speaks volumes about Bush. It tells you he is so comfortable in his own skin that he doesn’t have to overpraise anyone else, in order to prove anything.

A grown-up. How refreshing.

UPDATE: Reader Karen sends another Bush anecdote:

For your George W. Bush file: My sister worked for a county Senior Program, just outside of Houston, when GWB was governor. He visited the facility and was enthusiastically received. At the end of the event, he met numerous fans, shaking hands and posing for photos. After such an extended interchange, my sis approached and thanked him for taking so much time. His response was that his father had told him that someday people might not want to have their pictures taken with him, so he should appreciate it while it was happening… and he did.

My response is “What a gracious man.” He has proven it again and again.

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  • Gloria

    Gardner seems to be an ignoramus about architecture. The Bush library design is basically Palladian. Much of the architecture of Washington, DC is Palladian.
    Palladio was a 16th c. Italian who rediscovered the basics of Roman architecture and his work initiated a renaissance of such architecture in Italy, Britain and the U.S.
    Villas for the new capitalists (modern banking was invented in Italy about that time) in the Palladian style were designed specifically to provide a restful dwelling in the countryside for people who spent their workdays during the week in a hectic and stressful environment.
    The design and its tradition seem appropriate for President Bush.

  • Andrew B

    Do you think that previous presidents had to put up with so much idiotic scribbling? Did Millard Fillmore get blamed for cholera outbreaks? Did James Polk take heat because the Ohio River flooded? Was Rutherford B. Hayes responsible for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? Did Jimmy Carter have some culpability for “Grease 2″?

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  • Team Bender

    There was an unapologetic and loose morality surrounding the Clinton presidency. Why should his library be any different than the trailer trash that occupied the White House?

    And, just to be clear, we all know that it is the occupants of a building that define it.

    Anyone want to bet that James Gardner lives in a house with Doric columns and granite interior?

    As for me – people who equate prairie “anything” with “dowdy” are full of you-know-what. The prairie is a wonderful thing.

    Maybe I should change my name to Prairie Girl.

  • dry valleys

    I encountered this just today, from a while back, Jonah Goldberg attacking Bush (well, sort of).

    It seems to me bailouts in Britain were substantially worse than those in the USA because Brown is more wedded to the status quo ante, more unambiguosly to blame (alongside his mate Blair), & attatches fewer strings to his largess of MY money than Bush or Obama.

    But it’s not exactly my idea of a night out wherever it happens. I am glad I transferred my money to a mutual recently.

    As for decor, I never noticed it. As a working-class urbanite, I can say with a vague hint of shame but not nearly enough to do anything about it that any high society fashions are wasted on me. What I will say is that I prefer 19th & early 20th century row houses, or public housing that wasn’t built very recently, to these jerry-built flats as are being thrown up.

    As for race. Just imagine if upper-class types were green & working/lower middle class types of all races were blue. Anyone would be aghast to see the imbalance in those portraits, the top universities, the professions etc. But it seems as though no one is bothered.

  • Andy

    I sent a little note to The New Republic, to their comment email which is about picture 2 of 7. See what happens.

  • Mark L

    What amused me most when I first saw pictures of the Clinton Library is that it looked like a outsized trailer home. Somehow I thought it fit.

  • tnxplant

    Gardner is revealing himself as neither colorblind nor tolerant. His words tell the world who he is.

  • dry valleys

    Why feminists love the surge

    After an agonising deliberation I have decided to support the Obama strategy in this department. You have to get off the fence at some point. While I disagreed with the ultra-hawks over Iran, feeling they would do more harm than good, I am not with those who want to simply bail out of Afghanistan. You have to ask yourself whether it really will benefit the women & girls, & if it does then I think it is worth doing for humanitarian purposes. Which is why, of course, I am not a pacifist.

    There has actually been a bit of a to-do about parts of the left being anti-Obama at all costs & going over the cliff. I am more moderate than them, perhaps, & more inclined to agree with Obama.

  • Tom

    I live near the site of the library. The architecture appears to fit very nicely into the surroundings.

  • ahem

    Dry valleys, er, Mr Emmanuel: is that you?

  • F

    Anent the race comment: At one point in his presidency, Bush and his then National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, made a semi-secret international trip. I don’t remember the destination or the circumstances, but they wanted to do it without the usual presidential entourage and press contingent. Bush’s explanation of how they slipped away without being noted is memorable: (paraphrasing) we just drove to the airport in an unmarked Suburban, and anyone seeing the two of us would have thought “there goes a man and his wife taking off on some kind of family trip.”

    For Bush the fact that Rice is African-American didn’t enter into the equation. One journalist commented on this lack of racial sensitivity, but the rest of the Bush-hating press didn’t pick up on the meme. I’m not surprised. F

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  • Gayle Miller

    Team Bender – you are a treasure. Our president is not a serious leader; hasn’t got a clue how to govern. He’s just a facade behind which people like George Soros and his ilk manipulate the American economy and people insofar as they are able. They will, however, push us too far eventually, to their sorrow.

  • Team Bender

    Thank you, Gayle – you’re on the ‘Cheerleader’ team along with myself, Maggie45, JuliB, cathyf, and Sally June. (They are the only ones brave enough to admit it:-) )

    With THE ANCHORESS calling the plays and Bender at QB, how can we fail?

    (You paying attention here, Bender?)

    p.s. Gayle – you nailed it right on the head – Fearless Leader is a puppet on a string…


    Along with Team Bender, I agree with your analogy of this Presicent, Gayle. As he is elegantly reading the words on his teleprompter–I think of the Wizard of Oz.

    Just one word to describe Mr. Gardner–tacky.