Borrowing the color scheme from the Red State/Blue State maps I have color coded the text as follows: Red text is information that is necessary to the reporting of the event. Blue text presents details that would not have been reported if President Clinton has planted the tree, and Gray text represents information that I believe to be incorrect or confusing.
The young American chestnut was already sitting in its hole in the ground and a fresh pile of dirt was waiting nearby when the president - wearing a business suit - strode out to throw on three shovelfuls and pronounce his Arbor Day commemoration complete.
"We don't want to get carried away," laughed President Bush.
Despite the brevity of what the White House called a "ceremonial planting" on Friday, the presidential event was aimed at aiding a long effort to bring back the American chestnut. Once a dominant presence in the eastern United States, the graceful trees were virtually wiped out by blight starting at the turn of the 20th century. Now, after years of breeding, cloning and crossbreeding with other species, the Agriculture Department is ready to reintroduce disease-resistant chestnuts to eastern forests next year.
So the White House picked an American chestnut for Bush to plant on the mansion's grounds to mark National Arbor Day.
"This is our little part to help it come back," Bush told reporters. "Our message is to our fellow citizens: plant trees - it's good for the economy and it's good for the environment."
The president had a fair amount of help, both before and after the brief event.
"Ready to go? Alright, let's do it," Bush said to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, also in dark suit.
Each man pitched spadefuls of dirt into the hole holding the green-leafed sapling - Bush mock-grunting at the effort, presidential dog Miss Beazley underfoot and Johanns only nearly missing the president's pants leg at one point. Bush then quickly called it a day and headed back inside the White House.
Several National Park Services workers moved in to finish the job. And now, an American chestnut fills the corner of the White House's North Lawn occupied by a 100-year-old tulip poplar until severe storm damage required its removal four years ago.
Some may be tempted to call foul because I made the president's joke about "not getting carried away" blue. The thing is, if you read the transcript of the event, he made several jokes and the AP picked the least funny one because it fit their portrayal of the presidents participation as unenthusiastic, phony and perfunctory.
THE PRESIDENT: Glad you all are here. Ready, Mr. Secretary? SECRETARY JOHANNS: I'm ready.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I'm honored -- we're honored to be here with the Secretary of Agriculture, as well as Marshal Case, who is head of the American Chestnut Foundation. We are planting an American chestnut tree here at the White House. This is the 133rd year of Arbor Day. Our message is to our fellow citizens, plant trees -- it's good for the economy and it's good for the environment.
As well, Marshal informs me that the American Chestnut Foundation has worked very closely with the Agriculture Department to coming up with a disease-resistant strain of the American chestnut. And he says we're making good progress, and that one day the American chestnut, which had been wiped out by blight, will be coming back. And this is our little part to help it come back.
So, Mr. Secretary, are you prepared? SECRETARY JOHANNS: I am ready. Let's -- THE PRESIDENT: A man known for shoveling a lot of things. (Laughter.) SECRETARY JOHANNS: Exactly. THE PRESIDENT: Ready to go? SECRETARY JOHANNS: Yes, I am ready. THE PRESIDENT: All right, let's do it.
"A man known for shoveling a lot of things... Exactly." Funnier, don't you think?
Actually, I was tempted to make the president's admonition to plant trees blue because it was rearranged and taken out of context. If you read it is the transcript, while it isn't exactly brilliant oratory, it is still a servicable part of a passable presidential Arbor Day speech. It is only when you pull it out of context that it sounds like a line from the Judge Dread.
Eat recycled Food! It's good for the environment -- and OK for you!
Hat Tip to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit for bringing the Arbor Day event to my attention (although the crankiness about the AP slant is only mine. Reynolds posted a link to a much more evenhanded version of the story.)