- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

UNDER THE BIG TOP

While Republicans struggle to lure more demographic groups under their proverbial “big tent,” President Obama has a big, fat tent moment of his own Tuesday night. It’s his first official state dinner and it’s a doozy: 400 guests on the White House lawn, in a tent, in the rain. There will be a 21-gun salute. And forget any traditional American roast beast at table: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a vegetarian.

Will there be curry on the menu? Will Michelle Obama wear a sari? Will vegetables from the White House garden make it to the prime minister’s plate? The press has spun its wheels upon all three possibilities.

Then there are all the back stories. India is supposedly irked by Mr. Obama’s recent cuddly relations with China and vexed by the appointment of former pro-Pakistan lobbyist Robin Raphel as a State Department aid coordinator for that country. Oh, and India may like former President George W. Bush’s policies better. And of course, Mr. Obama need India’s help to finesse some control in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is attending the soiree, but not Bill Clinton. Prominent Indian-Americans Deepak Chopra, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are on the guest list, which has been repeatedly described by Indian journalists as “the hottest ticket in town,” along with a host of deep-pocketed Democratic donors and Hollywood heavies.

Despite the distractions, White House appears strategically simple and in broad strokes.

Why India, why now? That was a singular question posed to press secretary Robert Gibbs.

“It’s the importance of our relationship with India on a host of issues. Obviously, counterterrorism is important; the economic recovery and the world economy; our relationship with them in terms of energy and climate change,” Mr. Gibbs said. “I think India obviously is in a very important region in the world. And I think it demonstrates the importance that that relationship has in the world.”

OBAMABUSH

Who’s really in the White House? That’s subject to interpretation.

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman says President Obama is starting to look like Ronald Reagan, with distinct “Gipperish traits.” Newt Gingrich and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews claim Mr. Obama now resembles Jimmy Carter. But wait. There’s more.

“When he entered office, President Obama promised to inject US foreign policy with a new tone of respect and diplomacy. His recent trip to Asia, however, showed that it’s not working. A shift to Bush-style bluntness may be coming,” says Gabor Steinhart of Der. Speigel, the German publication.

As in George W. Bush.

“Even the president seems to have lost his faith in a genial foreign policy,” he adds.

WAGGING THE DOG

Well, everything else may seem in tatters, but at least the presidential dogs continue to hold their own in the public mind-set. Behold: The American Kennel Club is plumbing the paw factor among Americans with an ongoing survey gauging the might of famous dogs.

McGruff the Crime Dog is now leading the pack with 31 percent of the vote, followed by Bo Obama with 19 percent. No one has forgotten Bill Clinton’s chocolate Labrador Buddy, who treed 16 percent.

Franklin D. Roosevelt‘sScottish terrier Fala, Paris Hilton’s minsicule Chihuahua Tinkerbell and Conan O’Brien’s canine puppet Triumph are neck and neck with 9 percent each. And in last place? It’s Richard Nixon’s poor old cocker spaniel Checkers. See it all at www.pawnation.com.

HALF A SHALOM

The decision by the White House to pare down its Hanukkah party guest list could have lasting repercussions.

“President Obama must beware the Hanukkah snub,” says Tevi Troy, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, and a White House Jewish liaison during the George W. Bush administration.

“The scrutiny given to a White House Hanukkah party, and particularly the guest list, will certainly be more intense in a Democratic administration than in the Bush years,” Mr. Troy continues, noting that 78 percent of Jewish voters supported the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008.

“The Obama administration has given the Jewish community a number of reasons to fear that it takes its votes for granted. There’s the administration’s pressure on the Israeli government over settlements. And many Jews are concerned with the selection of Mary Robinson - a leader of the Durban conference boycotted by both Israel and the United States for its anti-Israel bias - to win a Medal of Freedom. The administration also attempted - but eventually backed away from - to put Israel critic Charles Freeman at the head of the National Intelligence Council.”

There’s more in this “string of slights,” Mr. Troy says, describing the winnowed down Hanukkah party among “politically tone-deaf decisions” with staying power.

“A smaller group may make this particular problem easier to handle, but neither it, nor a nagging sense that there may be a studied callousness at work here, are going away,” Mr. Troy says.

POLL DU JOUR

• 61 percent of Republican voters oppose setting a firm timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

• 24 percent of Democrats agree, along with 46 percent of unaffiliated voters.

• 43 percent of Americans overall favor a timetable.

• 70 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats say President Obama is doing a poor job handling Afghanistan.

• 41 percent of Americans overall say he is doing a poor job.

Source: A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 likely voter conducted Nov. 19-20.

Choruses, tirades, whimperings to jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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