If you're Barack Obama and you're in the market for a swing set, what do you look for?
Five things: safety, of course; then quality—no junk for the First Kids; made in the U.S. of A, you betcha; fourth is price—keepin' it real; and finally, environmental kosherness. These are your main criteria because you care about your daughters' well-being and about the example you set for the rest of us.
So what do the American people who aren't president make of the choice of a Rainbow Play Systems cedar and North American redwood set with four standard swings plus tire swing, slide, fort, climbing wall, climbing ropes and matching picnic table, as reported by The Associated Press last week?
Some of you scoff and say there are more important things to talk about, like the imminent end of the world. In response, I will simply point out that you regularly pick your nose, so shut up.
Where were we?
Our president champions responsible child-rearing, thriftiness, buying American and being mindful of the environmental impact of consumer choices, so we want to see how he's living up to his own standards regarding the critical lawn-amusement-apparatus issue.
First of all, Rainbow Play Systems gets high marks from users. I could find only glowing reviews: “The kids just love it”; “I would recommend them”; “100% satisfied”; “an investment in fun for many years”; and so forth.
Second, the reviewers all mention the durability of the sets, and aside from a chain recall eight years ago, Rainbow has a good safety reputation. According to its website, Rainbow is “the most trusted brand name in wooden swing sets,” and that is no faint praise. (Rather, it is tooting one's own horn.)
Third, Rainbow Play Systems' backyard playtopias are manufactured right smack dab near the middle of America in South Dakota, atop Mt. Rushmore in a factory built inside the giant, sculpted granite moustache of Theodore Roosevelt. Well, in South Dakota, anyway.
Fourth, the Obama kids' American Palace model can be purchased from Toys R Us for less than $2,000—not even close to big bucks in the swing-set universe, and not even the most expensive Rainbow model. God forbid the girls should browse the 'net and get a load of the Megasized King Kong Castle Tarantula. The American Palace may be the envy of the recently foreclosed-upon, but it's rather modest considering what the prez could afford.
Finally, it can't help but flip your tree-hugging switch to hear that the structures are made of fancy cedar and redwood—redwood! But would you rather our kids had nothing to play with but invisible friends and actual trees? I think not. And since the appropriately named Palace swing set passes the other four measures of presidential worthiness, let's now investigate its environmentaliness:
The most trusted name in swing sets boasts that “when purchasing a Rainbow Play System, you are making the environmentally responsible choice. Rainbow Play Systems, Inc. is proud to be using lumber, America's greatest renewable resource!” It sources its lumber from suppliers who adhere to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
This is reassuring to Inhabitot.com, a website focused on sustainable design for kids, which argues that yes, you can go greener than redwood, but the Obamas have made a “good choice in putting the spotlight on an American company that is championing the use of sustainable materials while keeping their products at a somewhat attainable price.”
On the other hand, a lot of people who care about forests claim that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative is in fact a scheme by industry to skirt Forest Stewardship Council certification requirements. Because it's funded by the world's largest wood processing and paper companies, goes the argument, the SFI can't be trusted as serious stewards of our precious forests. So, is Rainbow playing along with this alleged greenwashing or are they, and the president, being hoodwinked by big timber?
According to The Chicago Tribune, the president considered six manufacturers of swing sets before giving Rainbow the ultimate nod. The Tribune didn't mention the contenders, but let's hunt the cyberspace playground for a better swing set:
1. Woodlawn Swing Sets. Look a lot like Rainbow's. Made of pine. More costly. No discussion of where they're made or of forestry practices, other than “pine is better than redwood.”
2. Adventure Playsets. Claim to be sustainable cedar, but nothing to back it up. sold at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. Could be made in China.
3. Play Mart Playgrounds. Recycled plastic. Quality. Cool. Even tell you how many milk jugs were used in each swing set. But conspicuous absence of “made in the U.S.A.” statement and offices listed in Saipan and Singapore suggest that this would be a no-go for the “O.”
4. Cedarworks Play Sets. The most attractive. Made without redwood, but no discussion of forestry practices. They compost their sawdust and such, but the green claim could be stronger.
5. Gorilla Play Sets. Seem cheaply made. Sold at Wal-Mart. Have a “presidential sale” on the website to steal Rainbow's thunder. Fail.
So, did the president make the right choice? There doesn't seem to be a much better one out there. But I can tell you one good choice he couldn't make: the local playground.
Can you imagine a world in which a president's daughters could swing and climb and run and laugh in a public park without being surrounded by Secret Service agents, mobs of photographers, reporters, autograph-seekers and celebrity-worshippers? Me, neither. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.