As economic worries worsen, White House puts on the glitz

At a time when the unemployment rate stands at 9.9 percent, when jobs are still being lost, when worries about the global economy are causing breathtaking volatility on Wall Street, when millions of Americans who still have jobs are worrying more than ever about the safety of their retirement savings — at a time when all that is going on, the Obama White House has turned itself into a showcase of glitzy extravagance.

Wednesday night’s White House state dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderon was, as far as the dinner itself was concerned, a fairly routine, if sumptuous, affair.  The East Room was a grand setting, and First Lady Michelle Obama brought in a favored Chicago chef to put together a complex and expensive menu.  “The main course of Oregon wagyu beef came with a Oaxacan black mole sauce with more than 20 ingredients that takes days to come together,” reported the Associated Press.

Of course state dinners are supposed to be special.  But where the Obama/Calderon affair really hit the heights was in the festivities after the dinner, which took place in a huge tent — the word “tent” doesn’t quite do it justice — set up on the South lawn.  As the AP reported:

R&B diva Beyonce topped the entertainment bill for the dinner, taking place in the East Room of the White House, with the action later moving to a luxury marquee on the South Lawn of the presidential mansion. The marquee, the size of two-thirds of a football field, decked out in elaborate black decor and nightclub-style lighting, featured a stage and baskets of flowers and models of Monarch butterflies dangling from the ceiling.

It was a scene the most ostentatious party-giver would have envied: the White House turned into a luxurious, high-dollar nightclub. (Club 1600, perhaps?) But there’s no need for further description, because the White House photographer has posted several pictures of the action on the White House Flickr photostream, and they tell the story best.  For example, there’s this shot of the crowd listening to the entertainment:

There’s this Hollywood-on-the-Potomac shot of Beyonce performing on the dramatic stage set:

Then there are the ornate monarch-butterfly arrangements that White House decorators hung from the ceiling, “to honor Calderon’s birthplace of Michoacan, Mexico, where the butterfly’s annual migration from Canada ends each spring,” according to one press account:

And finally, there’s the First Partier himself getting down:

In the early 1980s, many critics in the press took First Lady Nancy Reagan to task for her fashionable clothes and gatherings — for “exercising her opulent tastes in an economy that is inflicting hardship on so many,” in the words of a 1981 New York Times article.  While it’s true that at any given time, critics of any administration can claim that the First Couple is insensitive to this or that hardship Americans are enduring, the fact is, at this particular moment, Americans are enduring lots of hardships, and lots of anxieties to go with them.  Is transforming the White House into a glam nightclub the best message for Barack and Michelle Obama to send to a suffering and nervous nation?

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