On a busy afternoon in the West Wing late last month, President Barack Obama seemed relaxed and unhurried as he sat down in a newly reupholstered brown leather chair in the Oval Office. He had just returned from the East Room, where he signed the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 — using eight pens so he could give away as many as possible. The act will be his administration’s last piece of significant economic legislation before voters deliver their verdict on his first two years in office. For all intents and purposes, the first chapter of Obama’s presidency has ended. On Election Day, the next chapter will begin.
As he welcomed me, I told him I liked what he had done with the place. Gone was George W. Bush’s yellow sunburst carpet (it says “optimistic person,” Bush would tell practically anyone who visited), and in its place was a much-derided earth-tone rug with inspirational quotations. The curved walls now had striped tan wallpaper, and the coffee table had been replaced by a walnut-and-mica table that, Obama noted, would resist stains from water glasses. The bust of Winston Churchill was replaced by one of Martin Luther King Jr. The couches were new. He told me he was happy with the redecorating of the office. “I know Arianna doesn’t like it,” he said lightly. “But I like taupe.”
If there was something incongruous about the president of the United States checking out reviews of his décor by Arianna Huffington, well, let’s face it, he has endured worse reviews lately. The president who muscled through Congress perhaps the most ambitious domestic agenda in a generation finds himself vilified by the right, castigated by the left and abandoned by the middle. He heads into the final stretch of the midterm campaign season facing likely repudiation, with voters preparing to give him a Congress that, even if Democrats maintain control, will almost certainly be less friendly to the president than the one he has spent the last two years mud wrestling.