Cabinet Room Dances and Other Irregular Escapades

“I felt like yelping, ripping off my clothes and circling the room.”

I stared. He grinned.

Oh, it was a great conference, he said, actually exceeding his expectations, but for four days, from morning to evening, he and his wife had sat in closed rooms for these intense meetings. Toward the end it was about all he could do to keep himself seated.

In the June issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, on page 15 is a full page picture of Betty Ford, barefoot, with her feet firmly planted atop the Cabinet Room table. The date of the pose is January 19, 1977.

Betty Ford
Such a scene happened in this way. It was the last full day in office for Gerald R. Ford, and the White House was in a stage of controlled chaos; goodbyes were being said, movers had brought in boxes, and pardons were being written.
“I walked over to the West Wing to say goodbye to members of the staff who had served President Ford so well, ” Betty Ford recalled later. “On the way back to the family quarters I passed by the empty Cabinet Room and thought, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to dance on the Cabinet Room table.'”
Shortly after President Ford’s inauguration following the resignation of Richard Nixon, the new president had asked David Hume Kennerly to be the official White House photographer. Smithsonian reports that he grew very close to the Ford family.
Now on this final day he and Betty were walking together when she told him of her secret desire.
“Well, nobody’s around.'”
Betty Ford: “So I took off my shoes, hopped up there, and struck a pose.”
Kennerly: “She said, ‘I just think I’m going to do this.’
Then she’s on the table. She’s a tiny woman, really, in very good shape. Very graceful, as a former dancer with the Martha Graham company.
She got up there, and with his small Leica Rangefinder camera, he snapped a few black and white frames.
According to Smithsonian, “Kennerly says he does not know why Betty Ford danced on the table, but he has a guess. “Very few women have had a seat at that table,’ he says. “I bet you could count them on one hand at that point, and knowing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment”–she endorsed it–“she was tap-dancing in the middle of this male bastion. She was storming the walls of the gray suits and gray-haired eminences.”
This picture and dynamite story call for a jamboree. I celebrate Betty Ford and her endearing nerve, and I revel in her Cabinet Room dance.
To my young friend whose wearied body and tortured mind once dredged up a questionable tension-relieving maneuver: Table the resolution.

17 thoughts on “Cabinet Room Dances and Other Irregular Escapades

  1. Pingback: Held Barack! » Teeny Manolo

  2. Pingback: smithsonian magazine

  3. I’m not aware of any limit on comment length, and I know I’ve posted many long winded comments there myself that are sometimes longer than the original posts. I just looked through my management setting and I can’t find anything there about it. I’ve been having minor connection problems this evening, but I don’t know if that would have anything to do with you.
    Descartes was implying several things, not the least of which was the existence of God and the Universe based on his thoughts. I would agree that he was implying that one must think to realize that one is in a state of being, but many beings think without ever realizing their state of being and many beings seem not to think at all.

    Animals aren’t hard wired for language, but all kinds of creatures have to engage in problem solving, and some of it is quite sophisticated. There are animals across the kingdoms that utilize tools and adapt remarkably to situations, to say nothing of how subtle the interactions of social animals can be. A startling example of non-mammal thinking can be found in various species of octopus. These creatures have been discovered to engage in deception and planning that was thought impossible in non-vertebrate species. A lot of what we consider ‘intelligence’ in animals is basically a measure of how well they interact with us. I once had a collie that had a huge vocabulary and could follow complex commands involving different objects, family members and areas of the house. I also have had dogs that were phenomenally stupid as they were sweet, but they all at least knew their own names. It comes down to language; so much of what we consider intelligence in others depends on the ability of the other to communicate their intelligence to us.
    Consider people with autism. Many of them have tremendously sophisticated thinking but suffer great difficulty or even complete inability to express themselves. They have long been misdiagnosed as being mentally deficient and have been condemned to isolation within their minds. These people are definitely thinking but without the means to interact. Another case would be people who have suffered great traumas and are considered to be in a permanent ‘vegetative state’. On rare occasions these people awake and these people have reported memories of awareness even when the machines said their brains were hamburger.

    I have an aunt in her late nineties who has Alziemer’s and has lived in a nursing home for nearly a decade. When I visit her she operates in a conversational loop that has shortened over the years in terms of the time that her questions begin to repeat. I still enjoy our visits thoroughly as she is still herself within the confusing fog; she has always been as humble as a saint and sweet as a gumdrop and is a blessing to her fellow patients. Many of her fellows are in an unsettling state, to be sure. Those most terribly afflicted in her ward have lost all of their words and seem not to think at all but rather stare in terrified confusion at the incomprehensible world around them. But they are still thinking. They are just doing it without any words or memories to give context to what they are perceiving. Their sense of self certainly still exists in that they are suffering. Suffering cannot exist without a self to inflict. A self implies thinking. Babies are going through an almost parallel reverse process; they are assembling their sense of self even before they acquire language. I don’t know what their thoughts are, but they would also be without words or memory to give their thoughts shape. Still, when I look into the eyes of babies I don’t see that same desperate terror. Clearly the two states are similar but decidely different.

    Upon deeper reflection I would say that our vocabulary of expression sets the upper limit for our sophistication of thought. Thought exists without words, pictures or sound, but if there is no capacity for its expression it is a empheric, solitary experience.

    You ask awesome questions.
    -W

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  4. Shirley-
    Of course, but then it is a thought that cannot be expressed in words. An image, a melody, a gesture-these are all expressions of thoughts that may have no words attached to them. I believe that animals think, but as they have no words their thoughts are without form or definition; a collage of sensory input and biological impulses that still knows itself but has no name for that self. A human in the wild raised without language still can think and is human, but they have no words for tomorrow or yesterday, no way to contstruct 0r express elaborate plans; in short, they have nothing to say. There are some very interesting theories about how humans acquire language. Language in some way seems to be ‘hard wired’ into our brains which has implications regarding the philosophical questions that swirl around consciousness. For example, when Decartes declared that ‘I think, therefore I am’ he required the language that he thought those words with in order to arrive at that insight, let alone express it. If you have no words for ‘mountain’ or ‘sky’ you can still climb the mountain and reach for the sky, it’s just that you don’t know what you’re climbing or what you’re reaching for.
    Does that make sense? Or is it just blathering?
    -Winston

    Far from blathering, I would say.

    When a six month old baby cries for its mother, he probably does not have the words to think, “I want my mother,” but he rotates his head searching for her. Probably thinking.

    When a newborn roots around for his mother’s breast, I doubt he is even thinking, “I’m hungry.” Probably instinct.

    I’m not sure if I believe animals think, although they are dear and loving and have rescued people, of course, and trekked long distances to find their homes…but they’re probably not “hard-wired” for thinking.

    Do you think Descartes was implying: “One must think to be?”

    A question more easily answered: On your site, is there a limit to the length of a comment? I’ve tried to post on “I’m a Republican…” several times, but never can finish. Am I too long-winded?

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  5. Shirley-
    Blathering about words is one of my favorite pastimes. I think words are like colors, and an artist who uses ‘red’ and ‘blue’ constantly is boring. There’s a reason for cerulean and crimson; and a person who doesn’t have the words for them cannot accurately describe them. Orwell made an impression on me at an early age that the way to make people empty-headed is to take away the words they have to describe the world. When all you can say about something is that it is ‘good’ or ‘ungood’ that is all you can feel about it.
    Words, words, words. I do love them so.
    -Winston

    Winston, can there be thought without words?

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  6. Shirley,
    I agree that ‘photo-iconic’ is a cool word, but I wasn’t trying to coin one. That was sloppy typing on my part. What I meant to ‘say’ was: ‘That’s a great photo. I would say it even qualifies as being iconic.’ I shorthanded it with a dash and was confusing. However, I do believe that you gathered my meaning. It would make a great poster.
    -WD

    Hmm…the gravy thickens. When you first used the word, I “googled” it and found several entries with the word photoiconic and photo-iconic, and made the flying leap–boosted by your salient comment–that indeed it was a valid word; one that I just had not previously known.
    An example is below.

    PhotoIconic
    PhotoIconic. photographic expression seeking to move the beholder ….. Photography blogs on Photo Blog Communities are independent of PhotoIconic. .

    Now, however, since this recent comment, I have checked further, utilizing dictionaries, for crying out loud, and while I do find both words listed together, I have come to understand photoiconic is not a complete, valid word. Rats, I thought I had learned something there.

    Some have combined the words as a title for their sites as I have posted above. Interesting.

    Anyway, thanks for being here and for listening to my blathering on about a couple of words.

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  7. Oh, yeah, I’ve seen someone dance on a pulpit!! Well, ok, maybe he didn’t dance, but he jumped up there during his sermon!! LOL You know Bro. Vaughn Morton….UM HMM!!!

    I’m surprised at that action by Vaughn Morton. Was that many years ago when he was very young?…but then that couldn’t be so for you are not that old. 🙂

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  8. Great post. I had never heard that story or seen that picture before. It’s a really great photo-iconic, even. I don’t see any disrespect there. Disrespect would have been doing that during a Cabinet meeting.
    -Winston

    Hello, Winston. Agree about the disrespect–see none there.

    I did not know the word photo-iconic before. Thank you.

    Interesting is that the built-in dictionary on my Mac doesn’t list the word either as photoiconic, or photo-iconic as you have used it. Found it plenty of other places, though.

    Come back often, please.

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  9. Some see the picture and think, what fun. Others see the same picture and think, I can’t believe someone would disrespect a cabinet room like that.

    Reminds me a little of church. Must the pews, pulpit, carpet be revered, or are they just objects to be danced upon?

    Right interesting question you have raised here Jay. Pews, pulpit and carpet are inanimate objects and in this day are not to be revered, although, in every church, there should be respect.

    Ever seen anyone dance on a pulpit?

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  10. Uh-oh, camp meeting is around the corner. WOnder how many table-top dancers we are going to see? 🙂

    Jana, in the building across from the children’s church auditorium is a board room. Think there is a table in there. We’ll catch Carol and lead her there. 🙂

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  11. I’d like to lay all my problems on that table and get up there and dance myself!

    Carol, you have a partner here. The next time we’re together for a conference or a retreat or a board meeting, we’ll look for a vacant table. I’ll have my camera at the ready! Can’t wait.

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  12. Is it amazing the thoughts which at times will lead to an action when the three words are placed into action,

    “No ones around?”

    Mervi

    Sometimes good results; sometimes otherwise. 😦

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