White House reporter Jackie Calmes gushed over Obama's hair as a symbol of hope for blacks in Thursday's "When a Boy Found a Familiar Feel in a Pat of the Head of State," which made the front page of the paper's National section and is the most emailed Times story as of Thursday morning.
In a convenient bit of public relations, the would-be "indelible" image (the initial online headline was "Indelible Image of Boy's Pat on Obama's Head") used by the Times was captured by White House photographer Pete Souza. Calmes, who is a notorious defender of the administration's economic policy, wrote on Thursday:
For decades at the White House, photographs of the president at work and at play have hung throughout the West Wing, and each print soon gives way to a more recent shot. But one picture of President Obama remains after three years.
In the photo, Mr. Obama looks to be bowing to a sharply dressed 5-year-old black boy, who stands erect beside the Oval Office desk, his arm raised to touch the president’s hair -- to see if it feels like his. The image has struck so many White House aides and visitors that by popular demand it stays put while others come and go.
As a candidate and as president, Mr. Obama has avoided discussing race except in rare instances when he seemed to have little choice -- responding to the racially incendiary words of his former pastor, for example, or to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Florida. Some black leaders criticize Mr. Obama for not directly addressing young blacks or proposing policies specifically for them.
Yet the photo is tangible evidence of what polls also show: Mr. Obama remains a potent symbol for blacks, with a deep reservoir of support. As skittish as White House aides often are in discussing race, they also clearly revel in the power of their boss’s example.
The boy in the picture is Jacob Philadelphia of Columbia, Md.
“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to speak again.
Jacob did, and Mr. Obama replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” He lowered his head, level with Jacob, who hesitated.
“Touch it, dude!” Mr. Obama said.
As Jacob patted the presidential crown, Mr. Souza snapped.
“So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.
“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said.
Calmes let Obama's hard-nosed political consigliere David Axelrod come off as an old softie.
David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime adviser, has a copy framed in his Chicago office. He said of Jacob, “Really, what he was saying is, ‘Gee, you’re just like me.’ And it doesn’t take a big leap to think that child could be thinking, ‘Maybe I could be here someday.’ This can be such a cynical business, and then there are moments like that that just remind you that it’s worth it.”