Yesterday Michelle Obama took daughters Malia and Sasha to see their future home in the White House; they also visited a couple of private schools. The trip highlighted some profound, troubling, and potentially explosive decisions that the Obamas are going to have to make very soon. That’s right, we’re talking about private family decisions. It’s been a long time since we’ve had young kids running around in the White House, and it’s been way longer since we’ve had a black family moving in. So the Obama’s choices about church, pets, school, food, and sports will be scrutinized almost as much as his pick for secretary of State. Here are a few that are already contentious.
The Choice: To rescue or to breed?
The Options: Obama himself called this a “major issue” in his first post-election press conference. He was joking, but 10-year-old Malia Obama is allergic to dander, so the family has to pick a dog carefully.
The Conflict: Shelter groups, spying a publicity opportunity, are already clamoring for the Obamas to rescue a puppy. Malia’s allergy makes this harder, though, because as Obama himself said, most shelter dogs are mutts like him.
The Likely Outcome: Shelters occasionally do get purebred, hypoallergenic dogs. Surely the president of the United States can find one of whatever breed the girls like or require. That would, let’s hope, help inspire people across the country to adopt adorable homeless pooches with one scrappy ear that always sticks up.
The Choice: Private or public?
The Options: Michelle has now visited Sidwell Friends (Chelsea Clinton’s alma mater) and Georgetown Day twice. Other elite private schools in Washington include Maret and the National Cathedral School. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is also in the district of Stevens Elementary School and Francis Junior High School.
The Conflict: Public-school activists want the girls to go to one of their local elementary schools to bolster American confidence in public education. The most recent First Child to go to public school was Amy Carter, but the reputation of the D.C. education system has declined since then.
The Likely Outcome: The Obama girls currently attend the pricey University of Chicago Laboratory School. They’ll have better security if they continue in private education. And the only thing more adorable than little girls running around the White House is little girls running around the White House in matching uniforms.
The Choice: To hoop or not to hoop?
The Options: Obama could replace the White House bowling alley with a basketball court, as he once pledged during a campaign stop in Hoosier country. Or, he could just keep it the way it is.
The Conflict: Though Obama has previously demonstrated his pathetic aptitude for bowling, with hilarious consequences, he could truly show disrespect to the sport and it’s blue-collar followers by banishing it from the very seat of American government. Plus, the bowling alley was always kind of for the kids, anyway.
The Likely Outcome: Obama has played basketball ritualistically on big days, like elections and debates, as a way to clear his head. So the one precondition he should have before meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and even the Prime Minister of Spain is a game of H-O-R-S-E. Still, there’s really no reason he couldn’t plunk the court down somewhere else in order to spare the tiny single-lane alley an ignominious end.
The Choice: Should he tell the current White House executive chef to pack her knives and go?
The Options: Laura Bush named Cristeta Comerford the first female executive chef in 2005. It’s not uncommon to keep a chef from one administration to the next, but names bandied about for the Obama term include Oprah’s former chef, Art Smith, and basketball player Carmelo Anthony’s personal chef, Daniel Young.
The Conflict: Traditionally, the White House chef is a French-trained specialist in American food. Comerford also currently uses ethnic techniques, but Obama may want to find a chef that more closely reflects his own mixed heritage. As he focuses on repairing America’s reputation in the world, serving exotic, international food at State Dinners would be a small but tasteful step.
The Likely Outcome: Whichever chef Obama picks will have to cook whatever he and Michelle tell them to, from tsatsiki to tofu. They’ll stick with Comerford for now, and revisit the issue later.
The Choice: Join a black church or a white church?
The Options: St. John’s Church, with a long tradition of presidential congregants dating back to James Madison, reserves the 54th pew for the president. But just a block from the White House is the predominantly black Metropolitan AME Church, where people like Frederick Douglass, Vernon Jordan, and Bill Clinton have worshiped. Or Obama could go with the Lincoln Congregational Temple, the “Oldest African American Congregational Church in Washington, DC,” and part of the United Church of Christ, the denomination Obama attended in Chicago.
The Conflict: Obama has succeeded in maintaining his broad, cross-racial appeal without alienating his black supporters. Whichever church he joins will inevitably be seen as a nod in one direction over the other. Plus, maybe you’ve heard of a guy named Reverend Wright? Don’t expect Obama to make that mistake again.
The Likely Outcome: Church is important to the Obamas, so their decision will probably be based on personal, rather than public, factors. It was the fellowship and comfort Obama felt as part of the black community in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ that drew him toward religion in the first place. Bet on the Metropolitan AME congregation.