COLUMNS

At White House, more gawkers than dancers

  • Capital Connections ®
  • |
  • May 18, 2006

by Karen Feld

capconn

Add one to the list of “firsts” for this White House. At the official dinner for Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard and his wife, Janette, on Tuesday evening, guests–mostly die-hard Republicans– queued up for 20 minutes in the East Room, following the after-dinner entertainment for country crooner Kenny Chesney to autograph their programs and snap photos with their cell phones while the military band played in the foyer. Unlike a Clinton dinner, the dance floor was empty. And we thought this was a dignified White House! So much for protocol.

Chesney’s country-boy ease

Although Chesney’s claim to fame seems to be that he was married to actor Renee Zellweger for “five minutes,” he brought his mother on this occasion. Chesney’s black tie attire consisted of a black cowboy hat and boots decorated with an American flag, a gift from President Bush. Having grown up in Tennessee, Chesney was happy to see Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Chesney said his father worked for Alexander.

President Bush and the first lady kept time to the music – the president with his right leg and the first lady shaking her head to the beat. The Howards seated next to them in the front row didn’t respond with the same enthusiasm. I’m told the closest his tastes get to country music is Bob Dylan, and for the music not the lyrics.

“Red” is the new “black”

Julie Nixon Eisenhower sat next to President Bush and looked striking in a red vintage Mary McFadden gown. Wendi Deng — Mrs. Rupert Murdoch — also wore “Nancy Reagan red.” Her husband, Chairman and CEO of News Corp. had a prime seat at the president’s table between Mrs. Howard and Condoleezza Rice. Also wearing fire engine red: former American ambassador to Mauritius and Bush 41’s inaugural co-chair, Penne Korth Peacock, who met her current husband former Australian Ambassador to the U.S. Andrew Peacock while he was posted here. Despite the fact that Peacock and the prime minister are old rivals, the Peacocks were pleased to be at the dinner. Peacock, now president of Boeing Australia, even gestured with his champagne glass and an expressive grin to toast us, the press pool behind him, after the leaders toasted one another.

Australia as a kind of Texas?

The Schieffer brothers, longtime Bush pals from Texas –newsman Bob and Ambassador Tom, who was Ambassador to Australia and now Japan– were both at the dinner with their wives. When asked about President Bush’s comparison earlier in the day, when he said: “I can’t think of a place more like Texas than Australia,” Tom laughed and said: “I think Texans think so. We found a kinship there.”

No wonder. One Australian guest said that Prime Minister Howard has made an art form of being ordinary, comfortable and relaxed. “He’s valium to the country.” But speculation persisted that he plans to retire at the end of the year.

Snow debuts as a rock star

Tony Snow’s inaugural briefing on Tuesday was a breath of fresh air, warm and fuzzy with an “Ed Muskie moment,” while talking candidly about his bout with colon cancer (the same disease to which he lost his mother) when asked about his yellow “LIVESTRONG” bracelet, and then even admitting that “a call from the President still gives me chills.” How refreshing that was in this not-so-warm and fuzzy White House. Even Josh Bolten thought so when he e-mailed Snow a photo of a cute puppy after his debut. Fortunately, Snow’s doctor told him before signing on as White House Press Secretary, “You don’t have to worry about getting cancer, just heartburn.”

Overheard earlier in the day as the eager White House press corps were pushing and shoving for position in the standing-room-only crowd prior to Snow taking the stage for his first on-camera briefing: “This is like ‘Desperate Housewives’ second season.”

A destination wedding for Olson and Booth

Former Solicitor General Ted Olson, 65, who lost his wife, Barbara, on 9/11, and his significant other, Lady Evelyn Booth, mailed elaborate “hold the date” cards for their October 21 wedding at Meadowood Napa Valley in St. Helena, California. Guests have already booked to capacity the resort’s 85 chic cottages. The couple met at the Kentucky Derby in 2002

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