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Exclusive interview with Vicky Goldberg

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This month, the presidential primary elections begin in the United States, and Americans begin the long process of deciding who will occupy the White House for the next four years. Millions and millions of dollars will be spent in the effort to claim the executive mansion, which is of course not just a mansion, but also an emblem of power. Ironically, the White House itself is not especially imposing, as far as state residences go—it was designed to be anything but regal. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the French architect who designed Washington, D.C., wanted to build a European-style palace for the president to live in, but George Washington wanted something far less monarchical. Washington (who left office in 1797, before the building of the White House was completed) didn’t like the word palace. He preferred to call the new residence “the President’s House.” But in fact it wasn’t really even the president’s house. It was the people’s house—they held the title on it and decided who would and would not live there.

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