The List March 2013

The Big House

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Harry S. Truman called it a “glamorous prison” and “the great white jail.” (“You never feel at home,” his daughter, Margaret, later elaborated. “Not if you have any sense.”) Over the years, the White House—America’s oldest still-inhabited federally funded mansion—has attracted an astonishing array of negative reviews from its residents. As the Obamas begin another term behind the wrought-iron gates, a roundup of the more pointed digs:


Gerald R. Ford: The best public housing I’ve ever seen.


Bill Clinton: I don’t know whether it’s the finest public housing in America or the crown jewel of the prison system.


Lyndon Johnson: It’s not the kind of place you would pick to live in.


Grover Cleveland: I have been thinking a good deal lately how nice it would be to have a little home a few miles away and live there.


Ronald Reagan: You’re a bird in a gilded cage.


Jackie Kennedy: I felt like a moth hanging on the windowpane.


Michelle Obama: One fantasy I have … is to walk right out the front door and just keep walking.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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