Tuesday, January 24, 2006

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A typology of glory walls

Slate's John Dickerson dissects the photos of George W. Bush with Jack Abramoff reported so breathlessly in Time. Far more important, however, is Dickerson's useful anthropological report about the hierarchy of Washington's "glory walls":

Are the photos the meaningless trinkets given out to big contributors? Or are they the meaningful trinkets that are a crucial part of the dance of influence between the White House and the lobbyists it uses to promote its agenda?

Understanding the Abramoff pictures requires investigating the absurd Washington phenomenon known as the "glory wall." Also called the "wall of fame," "me wall," and "ego wall," the glory wall is where members of the establishment flaunt their connections by displaying photos of themselves with more famous people. Lobbyists have glory walls in the office to impress clients. Staffers have them to impress other staffers. Socialites have their glory walls on the piano....

The truly famous have vast walls with candid photographs of themselves with presidents, jurists, and world leaders, usually with handwritten inscriptions scrawled at the bottom. Famed White House photographer Diana Walker has the most aesthetically pleasing glory wall: Her personal inscriptions are at the bottom of her own stunning photographs. Jack Valenti, a former Lyndon Johnson aide and former superlobbyist for the Motion Picture Association, has perhaps the most impressive photo of proximity to power. In the iconic photograph of Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One after Kennedy's assassination, Valenti is in the background, staring directly in to the camera.

Which brings us to the glory-wall hierarchy. Certain photos are worth more than others. Take presidential photos, for example. The Valenti photo is at the top: a picture that places you at a world-historical event. Next in prestige: you and the president, in casual clothes. After that: a shot of a president at your house. Below that, you and the president on Air Force One or in the Oval Office. And last: shaking hands with the president at some enormous, impersonal event.

The Abramoff-Bush pics are clearly in the bottom categories. The most potent picture, as described by Time, shows Abramoff, the president, several unidentified people, and a tribal leader in the Old Executive Office Building. Abramoff tried to sell such meetings to his clients as consultations with the president—that Bush was inviting the tribal leaders to Washington to get their views. Hooey. The president's performance at such meetings is brisk: pleasantries, remarks, handshakes, and he's out.

Bush doesn't need to stay long because the events are all about the picture, which is why the pictures are a political problem for the White House. Such pictures are a part of the reward system that help the White House run. White House officials know that when they give Abramoff or other lobbyists and political backers such photographs, they're going to use those photos out in the real world to claim that they have big-time access to Bush. For giving Abramoff this little bragging right, White House aides put influence in the bank.

posted by Dan on 01.24.06 at 01:22 PM


The Democrats are still trying to make something of this?


posted by: Scott Kirwin on 01.24.06 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Thanks for your decision to run against Teddy. Where should we send our contributions?

posted by: Richard Heddleson on 01.24.06 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Georges Perec has a lovely essay on the
typology of the modern office, English
translation in Species of Spaces.

posted by: LW on 01.24.06 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Any Democrats on the picture bandwagon remember Johnny Chung? How about pictures like these?


Hey, here's one autographed by Hillary:


Oh! The outrage!

posted by: MKL on 01.24.06 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Partisans of both parties use misleading pictures. The democrats aren't nearly as good at it, but they're starting to try.

We might find out eventually what links there are between Bush and Abramoff, but a few photos of trailers that might be mobile biological warfare plants can't hurt in the meantime. Anyway, Bush isn't running for office again.

Three years from now photos of incumbents seeking re-election shaking hands with Bush are likely to be far more embarrassing to the incumbents than photos with Abramoff are to Bush.

posted by: J Thomas on 01.24.06 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

From the Slate article: "Jack Abramoff managed to get into at least a half-dozen photos with President George W. Bush."

That's some mighty fine question-begging.

From the above post: "reported so breathlessly in Time."

That's just garden-variety workmanlike partisan spin. The Time article is full of caveats.

Subtle hackery score: Dickerson 1, Drezner 0.

posted by: rilkefan on 01.24.06 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

The links are not between Bush and Abramoff, they are between Rove and Abramoff. Just remember the trio of Abramoff, Reed, and Norquist and how they interact with the congressional Republican party (Delay and Santorum) and the presidential Republican party (Rove).

posted by: Eli Rabett on 01.24.06 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

Of course, there is always the Republican party at prayer, Reed, Robertson and Falwell. Sorry, forgot that

posted by: Eli Rabett on 01.24.06 at 01:22 PM [permalink]

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