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Dr. Tarbett’s Thoughts As The White House Eye Doctor – Pt II

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People often ask me what my favorite memory is from my time working in the White House Medical Unit. Interestingly, my favorite memory was in a corner coffee shop nearby. I have a picture I took from that spot.  It’s at the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania.  In the background is the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the White House Medical Unit (WHMU) sits, along with the eye exam lane.

I would always go there before heading to the WHMU. It was a Caribou Coffee during my time, and now it’s a Peet’s Coffee. I distinctly remember Wednesday, November 5, 2008. I saw patients on the first Wednesday of each month, and this Wednesday happened to be the day after our national election.  I’ll offer no commentary on Democratic or Republican politics. I’ve ascribed to both, depending on candidates and issues. But what was so memorable for me on this day was the fact that when I sat there drinking my coffee, looking out to the sidewalk and street, it looked very much like the picture you see here … just another day. People walking to work, drinking their coffee, talking like they would on any other morning.

With such a monumental change in power in the government and such stark differences in idealogies, politics and race, other countries would possibly riot, protest, breakdown, maybe have a military or religious coup. But in America, it was just another day of the week. To me, this is a reflection of how well our goverment was designed and how good it actually is. 

And it has always stuck with me as one of my favorite memories…the ordinary of that day. Because I think that little bit of ordinary is what makes us extraordinary as a country.

Under President Obama’s administration, I served as White House optometrist for both President Obama and Vice President Biden. I remember having a lot of laughs with the vice president. He was incredibly friendly and down-to-earth and I’m honored I could meet and serve the man that would become the 46th president of the United States. 

President Biden – just like every president behind him and every president ahead of him – will need cooperation to serve the American people well. President Biden is of the old guard, a time when there was a middle ground in politics. He comes from a time of John McCain, H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. A time before the political discord was sewn broadly and cultivated meticulously by the media (both social and traditional) to make the middle ground in politics as hospitable as No-Man’s land in WWI.

Political rife has raged since the dawn of our country. What makes George Washington the father of our country, and in turn one of our greatest presidents, is not the fact he was a great politician, but rather for the precedents he set. Because he was above reproach as a military leader and an American hero, no one dared challenge him as president, and this allowed the fragile, newborn United States government to make it out of the cradle and begin to crawl. However, political factions were knocking on the door ferociously when he declared he would step down after serving two terms. 

Addressing the gathering political storm in his farewell address, Washington stated, “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

America is like no other country in the world, and I feel people from other countries wonder how we do it, how we somehow stay together.

To me, it is freedom. It is opportunity. And hopefully, it will continue to be respect for one another as fellow citizens. All of us – whether we work in the field of eye care, governance, teaching, manufacturing, raising a family or any given calling – can do our jobs better when we benefit from mutual respect. 

On this, I wish President Biden good luck.

Written by Carolina Eye Doctors

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