If I talk on the phone for 90 minutes in a week, it is a bad week
Earlier this month President Barack Obama set a record that if I become Commander in Chief will never be broached. He spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than 90 minutes about the invasion of the Crimean region of the Ukraine.
If I talk on the phone for 90 minutes in a week, it is a bad week.
That call made me wonder whether Obama took the call on his trustee Blackberry or if he was tethered to an office phone. (Yes I consider being caught on the phone to be on par with being held captive.)
Obama was on his office phone. How miserable. That led me to think about other conversations that had been held over those phone lines in that very office.
And then it dawned on me; there wasn’t always a phone in the White House. George Washington didn’t take any calls in that office. Of course, that is primarily because there wasn’t even a White House yet when Washington was chosen as the nation’s first President. John Adams holds the honor of being the first President to call the White House home.
Millard Fillmore brought running water and a stove into the presidential residence but no electrical outlets were wired until Benjamin Harrison took office.
Harrison and his wife weren’t keen on the new technology, however, and always feared being shocked by one of the light switches so they continued to use the traditional gas lights.
Despite being afraid of electricity, Harrison was the first President to bring a Christmas tree to the White House. Given his fear of electricity, I doubt it had the same flair as Clark W. Griswold’s.
But peace and quiet ruled the Oval Office until Rutherford B. Hayes took office. That is when the first phone calls could be taken and placed in the Presidential offices. How nice would that have been to have an office with no phone?
Several Presidents could have owned cell phones before now, but thanks to the Presidential Records Act of 1978 passed after Richard Nixon was unceremoniously removed from office, Presidents have to record and preserve all of their official communications. That is why even emails are not a popular form of communication by our nation’s Chief Executives. Bill Clinton rode a wave of popularity driven by an economy propped up by the first internet bubble and only sent two emails during eight years in office.
I send more than two emails driving from one appointment to the next. And if my inbox is any indication, Obama sends more than two emails each day before lunch – usually asking me for $5 because it is Michelle’s birthday or something.
But now, as long as he is careful to only communicate in private, unofficial conversations, Obama can talk and text on a super spy-proof mobile phone.
For some reason, if something is common now, it is easy to believe that it has always been common. But when you see how long it took to get basic technology like running water and electricity into our nation’s Presidential parsonage, you see how wrong those assumptions are.
Kent Bush is the publisher of the Butler County Times Gazette and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org