As far as he can recall, the first time Malcolm encountered the “Pottery Barn rule” was from William Safire in the New York Times:
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That caution against obsessive reform was introduced into the American political language in the late 1970s by Bert Lance, President Jimmy Carter’s budget chief. Ol’ Bert, a Georgian, claimed no coinage, saying, “It’s a bit of old Southern wisdom.”
Fast-forward 25 years to another phrase involving metaphoric breakage. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was quoted in “Plan of Attack” as cautioning President George Bush before the war that he would “own” Iraq and all its problems, after military victory. “Privately,” wrote Bob Woodward, “Powell and Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.” (Richard Armitage is the deputy secretary of state.)
One Olympic sight Malcolm intends to take in is the massed Monégasque navy in London’s Docklands. And the queen of the lot has to be (take your pick) the German cruise-line Deutschland (above) or the tall ship Stadt Amsterdam.
For the sake of argument, let’s settle for the German offering.
After all, that fits the Pottery Barn Rule: they broke it, so (for now) they own it.