Habitat Photo-Ops

As I watched a hard-hatted President Bush hammer a nail into some plywood at a Habitat for Humanity construction site in Pass Christian, Miss, I had a flashback.

I’ve been on a few HFH sites that were heaven-sent for politicians looking for the perfect photo-op. Newt Gingrich’s drive-by near Atlanta comes readily to mind. What’s not to like about being associated with HFH? It’s doing for others while requiring those others to also do for themselves. It’s an affiliation that transcends party labels.

Perhaps the president did more than a cameo appearance in Pass Christian. Given his plummeting popularity ratings, he can ill afford for the media to portray him as cynically using HFH for some cheap, populist, public relations boost.

But I hearken back to construction sites that featured HFH’s long-running VIP, former President Jimmy Carter. Say what you will – and most of us have – about Carter’s preachy, micro-managing ways, he was – and is – no photo-op carpenter. He is the real deal – a master woodworker and craftsman who knows what he’s doing and doesn’t want the media in the way. He does the requisite interviews because it helps the HFH cause — and then he’s all business.

I can still see him being deferentially cajoled into coming down from a roof in Houston because it was so humid and he was so, well, old and in jeopardy of dehydration.

And then there was the time – on the same HFH “Jimmy Carter Work Project” in Houston – when he lapsed back into Oval Office ethic. The project, involving about 30 homes, was essentially done. All that remained were landscaping touches and dedication ceremonies.

A couple of volunteers were planting a tree in a front yard. They were re-gauging the depth and sizing up the location of the hole when a disembodied voice rang out. “Now you’re gonna want to move over about four feet and dig a little deeper,” intoned the voice through an open window.

The unstartled response was knee-jerk and immediate: “Yes, sir, Mr. President; appreciate the help.”

Some micro-managing is better than others.

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