The recession redo, paid for by the nonprofit White House Historical Association, was the latest tone-deaf move by a White House that was supposed to excel at connection and communication. Message: I care, but not enough to stop the fancy vacations and posh renovations.

As Obama himself said in February 2009 when he released his first budget: “There are times where you can afford to redecorate your house, and there are times where you need to focus on rebuilding the foundation.”

It might have been wise, given America’s slough of despond, to hark back to a time when presidents just went to work and took their office pretty much as they found it, without the need to make a personal statement. As the former White House curator Rex Scouten once told me, in the era from Taft to Truman, the green rug in the president’s office was changed only once, when it wore out, to a new green rug.