It’s Hard Out Here For a King

• February 12, 2014 10:00 am


The good thing about being president, we’ve been told, is that you can do whatever you want. Last night, we presume, President Obama wanted to celebrate his pending transition to the lame-duck/lawless period of his tenure, and demonstrate America’s debt to thinkers such as "Alex" de Tocqueville, by hosting a state dinner for Francois Hollande, the president and bachelor-in-chief of France, a mid-ranking socialist republic.

He also invited a few celebs.

Comedian Stephen Colbert, for example, joined the first couple and the guest of honor at the head table. Mindy Kaling and Julia Louis-Dreyfus were also there, as was Bradley Cooper, a pro-Clinton actor.

Louis-Dreyfus, known for her role on the HBO series "Veep," sat next to Joe Biden, a Delaware man who also pretends to be vice president for a living. Former Seinfeld star Louis-Dreyfus wore a "striking black dress with a leather bodice," according to the White House pool report, and hoped that it "wasn’t too slutty." Not to worry, Julia.

Even more intriguing, perhaps, were the dozens of "soft" celebs in attendance: donors, officials, journalists, and, sorry to be redundant, other Obama supporters. MSNBC’s Alfred Sharpton was there, along with stalwarts such as John Podesta and "The Honorable Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement," according to the official program. Obama bundler Jim Chanos also got an invite; the hedge fund titan must be in fairly good spirits after taking a large short position in CGI, the contractor behind

CNN President Jeff Zucker was "just here to have some fun," he told the press pool. Bloomberg’s Juliana Goldman made the cut, obviously, although it is not clear if she was attending in her capacity as a journalist or as the daughter of Obama campaign contributors. White House correspondents from AP and Reuters made the list as well.

However, as Politico’s Dylan Byers reported, the national gaze was likely to be fixed on one dignitary in particular:

Perhaps no media figure's presence at the event will be more heavily scrutinized than that of Jill Abramson, the New York Times executive editor. As a policy, the Times does not allow its journalists to attend the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner, citing the inherent conflicts of hobnobbing with the politicians who they cover. ("It sends the wrong signal to our readers and viewers, like we are all in it together and it is all a game," Bill Keller, Abramson's predecessor, once said.)

Abramson deserves credit for dispensing with pretense. And if the pool report is any indication, she handled the arduous hobnobbing like a pro: "Jill Abramson walked through with a serious look on her face at about 7:05 and didn't talk to the press" (emphasis Dylan Byers).

Other momentous questions were finally answered, such as: What will Michelle Obama wear? As one administration flack/NBC producer explained on Twitter: "HOLY CRAP LOOK AT THE FIRST LADY'S DRESS.  #BOWDOWN" The dress, from Carolina Herrera, may have cost $10,000, perhaps more.

The menu, meanwhile, offered a 2,500-calorie feast of quail eggs, caviar, dry-aged beef, and "twelve varieties of potatoes," while showcasing "the talents of our Nation’s cheese artisans," who will soon be free to quit their jobs thanks to Obamacare. Award-winning singer, Obama superfan, and noted philanthropist Mary J. Blige performed.

Hollande, it’s been said, was Obama’s second choice to attend a state dinner at the White House. The president’s first pick was Brazilian President and former Marxist guerilla Dilma Rouseff, who snubbed POTUS because of some things Glenn Greenwald has written.

Maybe the president can’t get everything he wants. At one point during the festivities, Obama spoke covetously of French kings who "didn’t have to deal with the filibuster." It’s hardly the first time he has lamented his lack of absolute power, and it won’t be the last. Tuesday’s dinner was yet another reminder that nothing in Obama’s presidency has ever come easy.