Presidential Gifts: What to Get the Guy Who Can Get Anything in the World

Today I was assigned to do a story about Manette artist Marnie Holt Swenson, whose gift of an oil portrait of the first family was recently acknowledged by President Barack Obama.

As it turns out giving gifts to the president is a complicated process, and in the case of gifts from foreign dignitaries, it involves a lot of protocol. In fact there’s a whole department dedicated to screening, accepting, acknowledging and reciprocating gifts to the president and other employees of the executive branch from foreign officials.

The State Department’s Protocol Gift Unit must document every gift, no matter how small. Data from 2009, Obama’s first year in the White House, has not yet been compiled. Records show some of the more offbeat items received by his predecessor, George W. Bush, include a black Mercedes mountain bike from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a shoe shine kit and CD, “Spirit of the Bush,” from the Governor General of Australia, and the book “1,001 Reasons to Love America” from the Sultan of Brunei.

Other gifts to Bush that caught my eye: Official Dallas Cowboys gear from the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, a bull moose antler sculpture from the Canadian Prime Minister and 12 bottles of Georgian dry red wine from His Excellency Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia, “handled pursuant to Secret Service policy.”

I understand a Maine microbrewer called “Bill the Beer Guy” has donated a basket of his wares to Obama. Wonder what the secret service will do with that.

State Department gift officials must log the date of the gift, who it came from and the protocol under which it was accepted. The standard response is, “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.”

As it turns out, in some cases, they really shouldn’t have.

If you visit the State Department website, you’ll find a link to archives, presumably the source of information for a post on the Mental Floss blog, ‘Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix.”

According to the blog, the President of Indonesia, thoughtfully, donated to President George H.W. Bush a Komodo dragon. “Perhaps worried that the venomous, flesh-eating lizard wouldn’t play nice with First Dog Millie, Bush donated the dragon, named Naga, to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden,” the blog says.

Representing a gift to President George H.W. Bush

And talk about gifts that may have missed the mark by a hair, the president of Azerbaijan gave Clinton a carpet that was a portrait of the president and first lady Hillary Clinton. The carpet shows the first couple inside a heart-shaped medallion. “I wanted to convey their lives as one beating heart,” the artist said.

Clinton Carpet

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