In an interview with TV host Tyra Banks, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton likened the White House to a prison, raising the question of why she would want a job that requires her to live in it.
Most of us, it is safe to assume, would be delighted to have a job that comes with a free mansion and staff at a prestige address convenient to good shops and fine dining, and would readily say so.
But the protocols of campaigning for president seem to require the candidates to show a certain disinterest, even disdain, for the perks of the job, the aspirants presumably having loftier motivation. It is curious that former presidents, asked what they miss most, do not say the power and influence but Camp David and Air Force One.
One candidate did openly admit to coveting the White House. Former Senate leader Bob Dole said that when he would pass the White House driving home at night he would think, "If I lived there, I would be home by now." Perhaps that candid admission is why he lost.
When Banks compared the White House to a kind of jail, Clinton agreed, "Because you feel so set off and really isolated." The former first lady went on to say, "It is one of the reasons I put on the dark glasses and the baseball cap and go out of the White House. President Harry Truman once said that the White House was like the crown jewel of the American penal system because you can feel confined."
Truman might be the one president who could speak slightingly of the White House because it almost collapsed on him, so bad was the deterioration. Indeed, for about half his presidency he lived across the street in Blair House, hardly the most spartan of digs. He didn't move back until the spring of the last year of his presidency.
If Clinton wins the election, tourists in the vicinity of the White House will be on the alert for a blonde of a certain age wearing a Yankees cap and shades. Nod pleasantly to her, but don't gape.
If the White House feels isolated it's because modern presidents have made it that way. Bill Clinton acquiesced in the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. Pedestrians are allowed to stroll that cheerless expanse of pavement, but sometimes the Secret Service makes it off-limits altogether.
It got worse during the Bush administration with the closing of the public walkway between the White House and the Treasury Department and the closing of several streets just south of the White House grounds. The whole point was to further isolate the White House.
At least when Hillary Clinton talks about Washington she knows whereof she speaks. She even owns a house here, next door to Vice President Dick Cheney's manse, which is now so secure it almost makes the White House look welcoming.
Other candidates are almost endearingly naive. After his campaign-saving primary win in Michigan, Mitt Romney said, "Guess what they're doing in Washington? They're worrying, because they realize — the lobbyists and the politicians realize — that America now understands that Washington is broken, and we're going to do something about it."
Oh, Mitt, Mitt, Mitt.
Trust us. If the politicians are worried about anything — and there's little evidence they are — it's their own re-election. And the lobbyists are overjoyed. The "change" that the candidates rattle on about incessantly means more jobs for lobbyists, lucrative contracts to thwart, shape or capitalize on President Romney's plans to repair Washington.
Once those lobbyists and politicians begin vying to get his ear, he may end up adding another layer of security around the White House. He may even want to get a Detroit Tigers cap and some shades.