The impertinent prince
Bush plays naughty boy to the queen at his not-so-royal state dinner.
But all those white ties couldn't hide his low poll numbers.
*Editor's note:* This story has been corrected
since it was first published.
By Sidney Blumenthal
May 10, 2007 | President Bush greeted Queen Elizabeth in Washington on
Monday 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.
The queen's events began with a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of
the White House. <http://dir.salon.com/topics
dined with 10 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
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. (The New York Times
tells a slightly different version of that 1991 story.)
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
guests. Knots of neoconservatives 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 favor in a time of
cholera. Here came three former secretaries of state
George Shultz and Colin Powell; Texas oilmen (including T. Boone
Pickens, who funneled $3 million to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
smear campaign in 2004); Lynne Cheney's brother; and one James Click,
owner of the Jim Click Ford dealership of Tucson, Ariz., 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
April 25, 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.