Bush’s royal crush

Sidney Blumenthal
15 May 2007

President Bush greeted Queen Elizabeth in Washington on 7 May 2007 as a royal distraction from polls showing him as the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. Bush has held the fewest number of state dinners of recent presidents, only four previous ones, but for the queen he staged a white-tie affair and even forced himself to stay up past his usual 9 o'clock bedtime.

Also in openDemocracy on the Queen goes to Washington:

Godfrey Hodgson," Queen Elizabeth meets President George" (9 May 2007)

The queen's events began with a welcoming ceremony on the south lawn of the White House. "You've dined with ten presidents", Bush read from his speech. "You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 - in 1976," he said, quickly recovering. He turned to the queen, smirked, winked, paused and then said to the crowd: "She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child."

Confronted with a dignified white-haired woman failing to participate in his shenanigans, Bush instantly equated her with his mother and her silence with disapproval. In his experience the most common look that a mother gives a child is censorious. The queen's presence instinctively prompted him to declare himself a naughty little boy.

Indeed, the queen and the president have had a mother-and-child-like history. During the queen's 1991 visit, then first lady Barbara Bush, anxious about her ne'er-do-well eldest son, instructed him not to speak to the queen. "The family never knows what he'll say in polite society", the Washington Post commented at the time. "Are you the black sheep of the family?" Queen Elizabeth asked him. "I guess that might be true", he said. "Well, I guess all families have one", she replied. He asked her who the black sheep was in her family. "Appearing from out of nowhere", the Post reported, Barbara Bush swooped from across the room to save the queen, shouting, "Don't answer that!" The queen maintained her regal silence and walked away from the impertinent prince.

Sidney Blumenthal is a former assistant and senior adviser to President Clinton. He is the author of 'How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime' (Princeton University Press, 2006). He writes a column for Salon and the Guardian.

Among Sidney Blumenthal's recent articles in openDemocracy:

"Neocon fantasy, Iraqi reality" (20 September 2006)

"Bush’s bunker of dreams" (13 December 2006)

"Washington’s political cleansing" (17 January 2007)

"The Libby trial: contortions of power" (7 February 2007)

"The Republican subversion of law" (20 March 2007)

"Bush besieged" (4 April 2007)

" Bush’s soft-focus hard-edge" (2 May 2007)

After presiding at a lunch for the queen at Blair House, across Pennsylvania Avenue, President Bush, walking back, heckled a Newsweek photographer, demanding that he admit it was "a special day" at the White House, and then berating him: "Then why didn't you wear
something other than hand-me-down clothes?" The photographer, however, had not received the white-tie invitation.

That afternoon, the queen attended a garden party at the British embassy for several hundred guests. Knots of neo-conservatives surged toward the canapés. Neocon New York Times columnist David Brooks, in his best imitation of Uriah Heep, wrote of the event: "Although as a child I had turtles named Disraeli and Gladstone, I was never invited to sip champagne with the queen until yesterday." Around a tent-pole clustered the remnants of the Georgetown set that had once dominated Washington. Queen Elizabeth, attired in salmon from hat to shoes, slowly parted the sea of notables, stopping to speak to a very short elderly man, his jacket bedecked with medals - Mickey Rooney. "What does one say upon being introduced to Mickey Rooney?" I wondered to one of the old Georgetowners standing near me. "How was Ava Gardner?", he replied.

The state dinner enabled Bush to bestow grace and favour in a time of cholera. Here came three former secretaries of state - Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Colin Powell; Texas oilmen (including T Boone Pickens who funnelled $3 million to the Swift Boat Veterans for 
Truth smear campaign against Senator John Kerry in 2004); Lynne Cheney's brother; and one James Click, owner of the Jim Click Ford dealership of Tucson, Arizona, representing the Rangers (the highest rank of Bush-campaign fundraisers).

Laura Bush, a former librarian, who has made reading her special cause, invited not a single American writer. Perhaps she feared that men and women of letters might use the occasion to protest the Iraq war. (On 25 April, she remarked about the war: "No one suffers more
than their president and I do when we watch this.") Also absent from the guest list were American artists, filmmakers and musicians, except violinist Itzhak Perlman, who performed after dinner.

Instead, Calvin Borel, the jockey who had just won the Kentucky Derby, 78-year-old golfer Arnold Palmer, football quarterback Peyton Manning (not related to British ambassador David Manning) and retired football player Gene Washington (Condoleezza Rice's escort) were summoned to embody American culture. The Washington Post, without the slightest ironic tone, described the dinner as the "most elegant Washington evening in a decade", or at least since Warren G Harding played poker.

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