Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

What did Obama say?

Most presidents have one memorable statement that — rightly or wrongly — seems to encapsulate their tenure.

FDR had “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” while Truman had “the buck stops here” and Eisenhower had “the military-industrial complex.”

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP) - Take the words right out of his mouth.

Kennedy, on Day One, had “ask not what your country can do for you,” and Johnson had “I shall not seek, nor I will not accept, the nomination . . . ”

Nixon had “I am not a crook,” Ford had “our long national nightmare is over,” and Reagan had “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Bush I had “this will not stand” after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and Clinton had “the meaning of is, is” and “I did not have sex with that woman” and “the era of big government is over.”

Bush II had “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” in the bullhorn speech at the rubble of the World Trade Center, and also “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

As our pal David Gergen, a Harvard professor and CNN’s senior political analyst, put it: “The reason these phrases are important is that an essential job of presidential leadership is to give meaning to a central thrust of the presidency.”

Slogans such as “New Deal” and “New Frontier” gave meaning to what presidents wanted to do and what they wanted the country to do, Gergen said. One of the “great surprises” of the Obama presidency, Gergen added, is that “despite his reputation as a splendid orator, there doesn’t seem to be much that he said in his first three years in office that comes close to ‘ask not’ or ‘fear itself’ or ‘tear down this wall.’ ”

Loop Fans can help! It’s time for the first “What did Obama say? What should he say?” contest.

We need your suggestion — one per entrant, please — of some phrase or sentence that Obama uttered that might long be remembered either for its own elegance or as a symbol of his presidency.

You can also suggest — again, one per entrant — what Obama should say that would be emblematic of his tenure. The top 10 entries in each category (you can enter both), as determined by an independent panel of judges, will get the coveted Loop T-shirts and mentions in this column.

To enter, please go to wapo.st/loopcontest and enter under the “comments” section at the bottom.

But hurry! Entries must be submitted by midnight Nov. 14. In case of duplicates, first in will win. (You may want to double-check that there’s an active e-mail address associated with your washingtonpost.com log-in. If we’re unable to successfully contact the winner within three days, the prize will go to a runner-up.)

Good luck.

A pricey perk

Just like many American families, federal agencies are feeling a budget squeeze. But like many of us, they’ve chosen not to cut corners on the things that matter — like soy macchiatos.

The Interior Department recently debuted a fancy coffee-and-smoothie kiosk in its basement cafeteria area, where hard-working feds can pep up with an afternoon dose of caffeine. But this is no average joe: The state-of-the-art cafe dishes up killer cappuccinos and other specialties (mocha fraps!). The deluxe setup, we hear, set the agency back about $300,000.

A department-wide announcement from Deputy Assistant Secretary Andrew Jackson boasted that the beans served at the cafe are from Counter Culture, a brand he said “is committed to greening and sustainability practices” and “the most exciting, authentic, and delicious coffees in the world.”

Despite the allure of the gourmet offerings, a spy tells us, the place is rarely busy. That’s because penny-pinching workers would rather buy their coffee — the ordinary cheap stuff — at the regular old cafeteria.

The belt and below

It’s only Wednesday, and we’re already itching to hand out awards for the loopiest quote of the week. Here are two strong contenders:

“Today we the government are having our stomach stapled.” General Services Administration chief Martha Johnson used that rather graphic metaphor about a budgetary “diet,” as quoted by the Federal Times and noted by our colleague Ed O’Keefe .

“The Straight Poop on Kids and Diarrhea.” That’s the scatological title of a “consumer update”
from the Food and Drug Administration. (Glad we weren’t eating lunch just yet.)

Cheaper muffins, too?

There are signs that other agencies, if not exactly stapling stomachs, are at least dieting. We reported two years ago that the Federal Reserve, despite Chairman Ben Bernanke’s worries about budget woes, was trying to stimulate the economy by having its regional conferences at luxury resorts.

Bernanke spoke to the San Francisco Fed conference on Asia and was obliged to travel to the spectacular Bacara Resort & Spa near Santa Barbara, where the best rooms go for more than $2,000 a night in season.

He and a couple of dozen Fed employees were forced to stay at the oceanfront resort, which its Web site notes is “luxurious, understated, intimate and relaxed.”

Bernanke went from there to the Boston Fed’s annual economic conference, held not in Beantown but 90 miles away at the stunning Wequassett Inn, which bills itself as “quite simply the finest resort” on the Cape.

As for this year, our colleague Neil Irwin reports that the Boston Fed held its conference a couple of weeks ago in its downtown Boston building — and the San Francisco Fed will follow suit later this month in its downtown San Francisco building.

Well, as the Texas Rangers are saying, wait till next year . . . maybe.

Loose ends

The White House on Monday ended the twisting-in-the wind nomination of Charles Bernard Day to be U.S. district judge for the District of Maryland. Day’s nomination hung around the Senate for 10 months, but he never got a Judiciary Committee hearing.

Meanwhile, the administration also named a few other nominees, including Rebecca Blank to the perch of deputy secretary at the Commerce Department (on the heels of the confirmation of the new secretary, John Bryson ). Blank was the acting deputy.

Jessica Rosenworcel, a top Democratic aide in the Senate, was tapped to be a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission.

And retired Army Special Forces officer Michael Sheehan got the White House nod to be the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for SOLIC (that’s Special Operations and low-intensity conflict to us civilians).

Catching up on some embassy moves in recent weeks:

Florida real estate developer and mega-donor Robert Mandell has been confirmed to be ambassador to Luxembourg, and Mark Francis Brzezinski to Sweden.

Mandell replaces another generous Obama donor, Cynthia Stroum, who quit after a State Department report found the tiny embassy in Luxembourg in chaos because of her “aggressive, bullying, hostile, and intimidating” behavior.

And yes, Brzezinski, a Washington lawyer and former National Security Council aide, is the son of Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and brother of MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski.

Endless Loop

In the Loop is now a blog! We’ll be posting throughout the day at washingtonpost.com/intheloop. You can, of course, always send tips, suggestions and inquiries to us at intheloop@washpost.com.

Staff writer Emily Heil contributed to this column.

 
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