Constable: Ho-ho-hold the hate with historical White House gifts
Giving someone a holiday gift featuring President Joe Biden, or one from Donald Trump, or the president before him, or the president before that, might not be met with joy, or even politeness. The anger, and in some cases hatred, directed at our current and recent U.S. presidents doesn't invoke the best holiday sentiments.
The White House Historical Association's 2021 Holiday Catalog avoids all that by promising "a holiday gift for everyone."
"We don't focus on the politics," says Stewart McLaurin, president of the nonpartisan, nonprofit agency, which was founded by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961.
The group's holiday catalog cover features the 2021 White House Christmas ornament that "depicts a beautiful watercolor of the Blue Room Christmas tree," which was commissioned by first lady "Lady Bird" Johnson for the official 1967 Christmas card of the Lyndon Johnson family.
The White House Historical Association (whitehousehistory.org) started issuing official ornaments in 1981, honoring each president in order. The organization sidesteps that tradition some years to honor special circumstances, such as the 200th anniversary of the presidency, or White House architect James Hoban. So Johnson's turn just arrived this year.
On the back of the ornament is this quote from a speech Johnson gave to a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965, in support of the Voting Rights Bill: "Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man." It was part of his "We Shall Overcome" speech aimed at outlawing discriminatory measures that prevented Blacks from voting.
Perhaps those are fighting words to people who want to dismantle the Voting Rights Act today, but righting wrongs, doing justice, and serving mankind seem to be inoffensive goals.
"People can put interpretations on anything they want," McLaurin says, adding that last year's ornament featured the portrait of John F. Kennedy on the front and Jacqueline Kennedy's observation that "The White House belongs to the American people" on the back.
Modern presidents haven't gotten their ornaments yet, but they are represented. All the presidents have their signatures on silk ties ($49.95), which come in blue and red, and all have their names printed on the Presidents Mug ($24.95). The current ornament, with 24k gold-plated brass, sells for $24.95 and is the most popular item. But the 25th edition of "The White House: An Historic Guide" also sells well at $29.95. The proceeds fund educational initiatives, and the agency also commissions the official portraits of the presidents and first ladies and maintains and buys furniture, artwork and other staples of the White House.
Books include some influenced by modern White House occupants, including the popular "The White House Kids' 'State Dinner' Cookbook: Winning Recipes from the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge," ($39.95) started by first lady Michelle Obama, and the younger Bush's "Recipes from the President's Ranch" ($45). The Obamas also are represented by a plush toy version ($10.95) of their late dog, Bo. Other stuffed animals for sale include the Bidens' now-deceased dog, Champ ($24.95); George W. Bush's dog, Barney ($16.95); George H.W. Bush's dog, Millie ($10.95); Clipper ($10.95), a dog given to Jacquelyn Kennedy by her father-in-law; and Socks ($10.95), the cat adopted by Chelsea Clinton.
"The Trumps didn't have a dog," McLaurin says. "If they did, we'd do it for them."
As president of his organization, McLaurin deals with presidential families.
"I've worked with the Obamas, Trumps and Bidens, and all just as effectively, without any partisan engagement or rancor," McLaurin says, noting that his group has a singular passion. "We are not an extension of the president. We are focused on the house."