Tag Archives: Stephen Harper

The White House’s Extreme Makeover

Some fun history from the New York Times

The White House Under Rennovation

In 1947, the White House was in danger of internal physical collapse. One day, while President Harry S. Truman took a bath upstairs, a great Blue Room chandelier threatened to crash down on his wife, Bess, and her guests from the Daughters of the American Revolution. The president later joked that he might have unexpectedly dropped through the ceiling naked on the ladies below, and he confessed that the incident made him nervous. The upstairs floor, he noted, “sagged and moved like a ship at sea.”

Upon investigating the situation, Truman was told that hasty renovations, demanded by various impatient presidents in the past, had led to the weakening or removal of load-bearing walls and other supporting structures. Beams were “staying up from force of habit only,” he was informed, and the mansion had become a firetrap. Truman later wrote that with so many thousands of visitors and presidential guests, “My heart trembles when I think of the disasters we might have had.”

The following year, his daughter Margaret’s piano broke through the floor of the family quarters. In August, Truman recorded in his diary that with his wife away, he had been “moved into the Lincoln Room — for safety — imagine that!” He wrote to his sister that the White House was “about to fall in.” That November, after the president won a full term over Thomas E. Dewey, the first family was whisked across Pennsylvania Avenue to reside in the presidential guest quarters called Blair House.

Had someone other than Truman been president, there might be almost nothing left of the original White House today. The cheapest, most efficient solution was to build a whole new presidential mansion. Some even suggested a different Washington location on a tract of land larger than the current 18 acres, as would befit the commanding new post-World War II stature of the United States.

As one of the most voracious readers of history ever to serve as president, Truman recoiled from that prospect. He also felt that witnessing the old White House being torn to the ground would wound Americans’ psyches. He instead approved a plan to shore up the outer walls, tear out everything inside and install a new internal steel superstructure (“of skyscraper strength,” The Washington Evening Star said) above a large new, poured-concrete basement. (The basement included a shelter from nuclear attack, where President George W. Bush was taken on the evening of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.)

The historian in Truman consoled himself with the expectation that after the gut renovation, much of the original mansion — paneled walls, hardwood floors, ceiling fixtures and other decorations — could be grafted onto the new steel skeleton so that the White House would remain authentically historic.

Of course like all renovations, it went over budget

With his renovation over the original budget, Truman and the commission that ran the project made a deal with the New York department store B. Altman & Company to fill the empty rooms — “at absolute cost” — with reproductions. As for other spaces of the mansion, ones away from public scrutiny, little effort was made to disguise the fact that they were completed in 1952. When Jacqueline Kennedy toured the mansion in December 1960 after her husband’s election victory, she became distraught. Referring to a dreary chain of city convention hotels, she observed that the ambience of the reconstructed White House was “early Statler.”

As Mrs. Kennedy pointed out, the White House is “the setting in which the presidency is presented to the world.” Thus she obtained expert help and appealed for donations of money and historical artifacts to help make the building, or at least its public floors, a treasure chest of American history. Her efforts were so successful (and enhanced by the work of later first families) that it is no wonder that someone visiting today’s White House might presume that the mansion has always been meticulously redolent of early American history.

But Mrs. Kennedy’s restoration left some backstage spaces in the White House untouched, and to this day those spaces look much as they did when created during the Truman renovation.

For example, adjoining the second-floor Treaty Room — which presidents from George H. W. Bush through Barack Obama have used as a home office — is a small, brightly lighted bathroom with exposed plumbing and a green-and-white checkerboard tile floor that looks as if it belonged to a 1952 hotel.

I really hope that Prime Minister Harper does the same with 24 Sussex Drive.  It is in serious need of repairs according to the National Capital Commission.  I know there are politics at play (and there should not be with 24 Sussex Drive) but I think the Prime Minister’s Official residence should reflect our country’s pride as well.

Eve Adam’s Floor Crossing

There is nothing noble about Eve Adams floor crossing according to Murray Mandryk

If you are looking for the slightest bit of nobility in Eve Adams’ decision to abandon Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and move to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, you would be well advised to quickly move on.

About the kindest thing to be said is that it represents just the latest episode of self indulgence that has defined the soap opera political career of the Mississauga-Brampton South MP.

Far worse, however, is that it’s this kind of cynical manoeuvre that feeds the public’s appetite to stay as far away from politics – and polling booths – as possible.

Coincidentally, Adams’ sudden conversion to Liberalism comes after her failed bid to win a Conservative nomination in the newly redistributed Oakville-North Burlington seat. Adams wanted the seat not necessarily for reasons of having represented the people there. She has been in Oakville for only two years, but had lived in Mississauga for 14 years – seven of which she served on its city council. Oakville, however, is a much easier seat for a Conservative candidate to win.

We are now supposed to believe that after a nasty nomination battle – in which Adams either started or gleefully engaged in the many skirmishes – she suddenly has recognized her problems with the Harper government over matters such as income splitting or, less specifically, its "values" and the PM’s "mean-spirited" leadership.

"The values of the Conservative Party are not the values of the original Progressive Conservative Party and they are not the values that I hold," Adams said Monday, adding she now prefers Trudeau’s kinder, more optimistic style. "I want to work with someone who inspires, not with fear-mongers and bullies."

What sheer and utter nonsense.

Of course Mark Critch has some thoughts

Mr. Trudeau just accepted somebody that Harper thought was too tainted to touch. Think about that for a second. Harper thought she was too dirty. That’s like Rex Murphy accusing someone of "loquaciously rambling in their discourse."

The low point came when Adams met with the prime minister to beg him to spare her. Harper also said that Adams told him she had broken up with his former communications director, Dimitri Soudas. Harper then leaned forward and told her that he knew Mr. Soudas was sitting in the lobby waiting for her.

Can you imagine that conversation? "Oh, did I say we broke up? Yeah, well, we’re not, like ‘BROKEN UP’ over. We’re more like ‘taking a break’ over. I mean, like, he thinks we go out but I’m so over him and, well, my Facebook status says ‘it’s complicated.’ You can totally check that."

I’m actually relieved that the PM knew. When the Prime Minister’s Office was surprised that John Baird was leaving cabinet, I thought "What’s the good of having CSIS spy on everyone if Frank Magazine knows your foreign affairs minister is leaving before you do?"

True North?

So Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have a new ad out.  Canadian politicians since the days of John G. Diefenbaker have been loving the north.  John Turner, Jean Chretien, Stephen Harper all love the north.   It’s expected that Justin Trudeau loves the north as well… and wants to make it better!  That’s it.  

As a voter, I want to hear how.  What is the big strategy.  There is some political room for him to maneveur as Harper has really accomplished nothing as part of his northern agenda.  The Department of National Defence can’t even procure rifles for the Rangers (who arguably don’t need replacements for their bolt action rifles that work really well in the winter).  Plans for a deepwater port?  Umm that has gone nowhere.  

Instead of just matching Harper’s unfulfilled and broken promises with real ideas, Trudeau just floated out some cliches and feel good statements.  In other words, not much has changed.

Past best before date?

Has Harper been on the job for too long?

One of the costs of long-tenured prime ministers is that over time there accumulates a sense of hubris and a complacency that serves the pride and ego of the leader and his cadre, but few others. This mentality is captured well by Louis St. Laurent’s 1949 campaign slogan: “You’ve never had it so good.” While, at the time, St. Laurent had only been in power for a short time, his party had been in power for 13 years in a row.

Another example is Mulroney’s two kicks at the constitutional can. While the 1987 Meech Lake Accord showed fresh, albeit elitist, thinking on the constitution, the 1992 Charlottetown Accord seemed more like an act of great hubris and (and, incidentally, political suicide).

Perhaps my favourite instance of hubris and entitlement, though, is Chrétien’s decision to stay through the 2000 election cycle. It was rumoured that he made this decision, in part, to spite Paul Martin, heir apparent and rival in the style of an epic melodrama reminiscent of Isaac and Ishmael. The long-suffering country returned a Liberal majority, steeped in corruption and in-fighting, and was rewarded with front-row seats to see Chrétien and Martin run the Grits into the ground.

On top of hubris, entrenched prime ministerial tenures also erode the capacity of opposition parties to do their job. As Franks argued, weakened oppositions, who cannot rely on patronage, who do not enjoy the extensive resources enjoyed by the governing parties, and who must constantly deal with rookie MPs are less able to effectively hold the government to account.

Harper, prime minister since 2006, is deeply into the stage of leadership at which his elapsed time in office has become a problem. The extent of his hubris is well-known. Indeed, it has gone so far as to rouse former House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, who told author Michael Harris, “Parliament can hardly be weakened any more than it already is. Harper can’t go much further without making the institution dysfunctional. He is trying to control every aspect of House business. In fact, it will have to be returned to its former state by someone if we are to have a democracy.”