The state dinner hosted at the White House yesterday in honor of French president Nicolas Sarkozy was hardly a soiree of corn dogs and High Life, but was a relaxed affair compared to the starched, white-tie reception Queen Elizabeth II received during her May visit. Still, a comparative study of the guest lists for these rare occasions reveals quite a bit about neither Britain nor France, but the US political pecking order.
For QEII's visit, sports fan Condi Rice clearly ruled the roost, taking the reins of a celebration that boasted two pro footballers (the American kind), a sportscaster and her own date, Gene Washington, Director of football operations for the NFL. Prim Prince Philip must have felt quite at home sandwiched between Peyton Manning and Tim Hasselbeck (my most hoped-for encounter of the evening: cheesy Jim Nantz leering to the horrified Queen: Hello, friend).
This time, too, the US crew had a hard time reciprocating Sarkozy's wild passion for Americanism. The wine on hand was, fittingly, from a French- and American-owned vineyard in California, though other than that--and a mangled attempt by Bush to issue a welcome to Sarkozy and his entourage--not a shred of the famed French culture was to be found.
In a classic form of Bush-era face service, the dinner was peppered with Louisiana representatives, past and present--France's distant linguistic cousins, sore reminders of a bad real estate deal at worst. Former Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin, now CEO for PhRMA, the drug industry lobby, headed up the coalition of the nouveau French (Whaddup, Breaux!).
This belies another all-American theme: reformed Gaullists turned New-World corporate raiders. The deceptively francais Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, joined heads of FedEx, IBM, and the FCC, and Laurance Parisot, head of her nation's Business Confederation. Any marxist Frenchiness lingering in their names was canceled by the pro-commerce bent of the evening.
Perhaps "Sarko l'Americain" appreciated the White House bouncer turning away socialists, lovers and mimes at the door, but the bottom line is that America is still king of its own castle, not particularly willing to reach out to other cultures, even given such a benign opportunity. What gives?