Downtime

This White House Valentine’s Day Display, I Do Not Like It

I choose to blame Doug Emhoff.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Heart-shape signs with Valentine messages are on display on the North Lawn of the White House February 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. The office of first lady Jill Biden set up the Valentine messages to the country overnight to mark Valentine’s Day. According to a media release, Valentine’s Day has always been one of the favorite holidays of the first lady.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The offending decorations. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Before we begin, I know, I know: Where do I get off criticizing the first lady for festooning the White House lawn with giant Valentine’s Day hearts when she, and even the blandest message of positivity, represent such a vast improvement over her predecessor?

And yet criticize I will. Because these hearts, I do not like them. When they first came across my feed this morning, I thought I was looking at a picture of the White House somebody had covered in stickers. But no, they’re really there, a Valentine’s Day offering from Jill to us: a series of large, flat white, pink, and red hearts with words like “kindness” and “compassion” spelled out on them.

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Giant lawn signs in general seem like an odd choice for a place like the White House, but these in particular looked like they’d been built by a middle school stage crew. If they’re supposed to evoke candy hearts—I think they are?—well … there’s room for improvement.

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And even in terms of messaging, some of the words on the hearts—“healing,” “unity”—seem more directed at the pandemic and politics than Valentine’s Day. Since when has Valentine’s Day been about unity? I tend to agree with one appraisal I happened upon on Twitter: Wasn’t this just “spreading messages of healing and unity by putting signs in ur yard that say ‘healing’ and ‘unity’ & calling it a day”? It really isn’t so different from slapping a bunch of stickers on the White House after all.

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I’d been excited to bid Melania Trump and her blood trees goodbye and see what kind of aesthetic Jill Biden would bring to the White House, but I guess I was expecting something a bit more elegant. If these hearts are a harbinger of what’s to come, I am not optimistic.

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When I bravely voiced these opinions to some of my colleagues, some argued back that they liked the homespun nature of the signs, found a certain charm in their tackiness, and that any words of comfort at all felt like a relief in these brutal times. Maybe I had it wrong, and these aspects of Jill Biden were to be embraced rather than criticized: She’s from Philly, a city that takes some pride in its scrappiness; she’s an educator, and here she was decorating the White House lawn like she might a classroom. Besides, while we’re on the note of her being an educator, why should she have to waste time on this first lady decoration nonsense in the first place? Maybe it’s even refreshing that she’s either not great at it or doesn’t really care about it.

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These are points, certainly. I think I’m most compelled by the last ones. Why should it be Jill’s responsibility to decorate? Where was second gentleman Doug Emhoff in all this? Why isn’t he stepping up to take on some of the sexist grunt work of being a presidential or vice presidential spouse now that he so historically exists? (Also, maybe he could get his art-school daughter to help elevate the visuals just a tad?)

Instead, all he did was retweet the first lady. So I’ve changed my mind; I no longer have any problem with Jill. Doug, however, you’re on notice.

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