Today National Journal reported that, after leaving the media hanging as to the nature of their plans, the Obamas have finally made their decision on which DC neighborhood to call home after they leave 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and Kalorama is the winner. “The White House is staying mum on exactly which house,” they reported, “but the neighborhood is rich with possibilities.”
The neighborhood is also rich, period, a fact which has seemingly escaped most of the outlets that have reported the news. This isn’t exactly a surprise: the President earlier stated that the first family was choosing between Kalorama and Embassy Row, an equally tony neighborhood directly adjacent to it. Their home in Chicago, which they bought for $1.65 million in 2005 and is valued at just over $2 million, is a whopping 6,200 square feet and is set in chi-chi Hyde Park. And for the last eight years they’ve been roaming the hallowed halls of the most in-demand residence in the nation (aside from any of Martha Stewart’s houses, which, let’s face it, must be a delight). So the Obamas are no stranger to luxe living.
And it’s certainly true that size and privacy simply must serve as considerations for a former president. President Obama and his family will continue to receive Secret Service protection—an enterprise which requires considerable extra space. Like his predecessors before him, after serving two terms the President will want to ensure that his family—including daughter Sasha, who will finish out her final two years of high school at Sidwell Friends—are granted the room to transition to private life with some dignity and freedom from disturbance. After all, President Bush was able to disappear to his Crawford, Texas, ranch after leaving office in 2009, where he could live off-camera and gain his bearings after a tumultuous eight years as president. And President Clinton took up residence in ritzy but secluded Chappaqua where his wife based her campaign for the Senate. The Obamas certainly deserve to transition in peace, which Kalorama, more than some other downtown neighborhoods, can afford them. At the same time, it’s easily convenient to Sidwell and the downtown restaurants the Obamas hit up for date night.
But as far as legacies go, the thought of our President of Hope and Change moving to one of the oldest, most established, filthy-richest neighborhoods in the city just doesn’t jibe. It’s hard to imagine the Obama of eight years ago deciding to forgo the potential to move to a revitalizing area, or just a slightly less hoity one, in favor of a zip code where the blood runs royal blue and the servants’ stairs are still used by the help. It feels bizarrely out of a character for a man who proclaimed “We didn’t become the most prosperous country in the world just by rewarding greed,” to settle down on a block where a 4-bedroom home averages about $2.8 million.
Perhaps Obama is simply trying to emulate his predecessors. After all, five former presidents have lived in Kalorama as well: Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, and Herbert Hoover. But Obama is not simply about to be a former president, he’s also a former community organizer. Imagine the good it could do a struggling DC neighborhood if he moved in and established himself as a figurehead of the community, showing his face at local spots and bringing a sense of excitement. The Obamas could have made a real estate selection that would have confirmed their post-presidential commitments to be of the people and not just for the people. Instead, they’ll probably have more marble columns.