THE PLANK NOVEMBER 7, 2007
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
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
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,
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?