WASHINGTON – Michelle and Barack Obama found just the right spot to seat a gent going stag to Tuesday’s state dinner: They plopped French President Francois Hollande down right between them in a giant party tent, and put the pshaw to all that drama about his solo trip to the U.S. after a very public breakup from his first lady.
The A-list guest roster for the biggest social event of Obama’s second term — flush with celebrities, Democratic donors, politicians and business types — mostly tried not to go there, tactfully avoiding talk about “l’affaire Hollande.”
“I don’t get involved in those things,” demurred actress Cicely Tyson, who at age 80 said she’s been to plenty of state dinners over the years. Former NAACP official Ben Jealous was nothing but admiring of the French intrigue. “I think the French are way cooler than we are on a whole lot of fronts,” he said, including way better gossip.
On a frigid night, the evening’s pomp and pageantry were all designed to wrap Hollande in a comfy blanket of warmth, from the moment he stepped out of his limo and onto a red carpet on the White House north portico. The Obamas were there on the front steps to greet him, the first lady clad in a black and liberty blue silk gown by Carolina Herrera.
The dinner’s celebrity quotient included actors Bradley Cooper, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mindy Kaling and Tyson. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert somehow managed to snag a seat right next to the first lady. There were plenty of politicians, per usual. And in a midterm election year, the Obamas invited in more than two dozen donors to Obama’s campaigns and the Democratic Party. Among them were Irwin Jacobs, the Qualcomm Inc. founder who has given more than $2 million to pro-Obama super PACs, and Jane Stetson, the Democratic National Committee’s finance chair.
The outsized dinner-for-350 was held in a heated pavilion on the South Lawn that had patches of greenery and vines dripping from the ceiling.
The evening’s four-course dinner celebrated American cuisine. Menu items include a first course of American Osetra Caviar from Illinois, quail eggs from Pennsylvania and 12 varieties of potatoes from farms in New York, Idaho and California. For the salad course, the White House details a Winter Garden Salad that “pays tribute to The First Lady’s White House Kitchen Garden. The main course: dry-aged rib eye beef from a family farm in Colorado, with Jasper Hill Farm blue cheese from Vermont. And about that decadent dessert – the chefs used a paint sprayer to distribute a micro-thin layer of chocolate over the creamy ganache cake.
We have a saying around here for a moment like this when you can’t use four letter words. Instead, in our best southern drawl we say “Isn’t that nice?”
What did this cost us, you ask. Although the cost of this one hasn’t been reported yet here’s info from Mark Knoller of CBS News on prior state dinners:
Using information from the State Department Office of Protocol, reports that the costs of President Obama’s first five state dinners ranged from just more than $200,000 to just less than $575,000 each.
In response to a Freedom of Information request to which it took the State Department 13 months to respond, CBS News has obtained the Office of Protocol’s expense calculations for the first five state dinners of the Obama presidency.
Nov. 24, 2009 – State dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. $572,187.36
May 19, 2010 – State dinner for President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. $563,479.92
Jan. 19, 2011 – State dinner for President Hu Jintao of China. $412,329.73.
June 7, 2011 – State dinner for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. $215,883.36
Oct. 13, 2011 – State dinner for President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea. $203,053.34
The State Department has yet to respond to another Freedom of Information request filed seven months ago for its rundown of the expenses for the state dinner honoring British Prime Minister David Cameron on March 14, 2012.
Congress has been waiting for similar information from the State Department even longer.
Odds are this one will break the $200,000 mark too.
Now, say it with me – Isn’t that nice??