It’s the rarest of occurrences in Washington. It happens once in a blue moon. And it’s not a Supreme Court vacancy.
It’s a party at the White House.
It’s not a “state dinner” because India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not a head of state. Still, they’re polishing the china and setting the tables with silk damask and keeping every detail under wraps, unlike previous occupants of the White House who always released gushing accounts of party preparations, from the guest list to what’s being whipped up for the occasion.
The White House won’t even say who’s at the stove, since first lady Laura Bush fired chef Walter Scheib in February after an 11-year tenure. His replacement has not been announced, although several chefs have been cooking as “tryouts” for the position.
President Bush and his wife have hosted only four state dinners since he took office. His more socially adept father, on the other hand, entertained with abandon, hosting about 20 official dinners in the first six months of his presidency.
It is said the president hates wearing a tuxedo, doesn’t enjoy making toasts and generally eschews twirling his wife around on the dance floor, unlike President Reagan.
Mr. Singh, who is bunking at Blair House across the street, will be welcomed to the White House at 7 p.m. There is to be a photo opportunity. Then the party will be attended by a few reporters, part of the daily “pool.”
So, for the record, “official” dinners are very much like state dinners.
Here’s the drill: Marine Band orchestra. Receiving line in the Blue Room, followed by dinner in the State Dining Room. Usually, there are 13 round tables for 130 or so guests. One member of the administration is assigned to each table.
In past years, entertainment (usually an opera singer and a pianist) perform apres-toothpick and mint time. The menu for these affairs is usually a gentle mix of American and cuisine of the country being hosted. So tonight, it’s probably Indian and Texan.
Sure to be on the guest list are the usual suspects: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce; Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and a sprinkling of Cabinet members, senators and diplomats.
The Bushes rarely include wild-card guests, i.e. Hollywood celebrities.
But no whining. At least there’s a party.
“The president and his wife are sort of our royal family,” said Nancy Bagley, editor in chief of the glossy Washington Life Magazine, which covers high society in the capital. “I wish they were more social.”
State dinners, she pointed out, are not only about socializing. They’re good diplomacy and good business. Indeed, when the Reagans hosted a state dinner for Sultan Qaboos of Oman, he handed the first lady a $300,000 check for the National Symphony Orchestra.
Not bad for a cup of passion fruit sorbet and a few glasses of Perrier.