25 November 2009

The haves, have-nots, and state dinners that make me lose my appetite

Usually, the haves and the have-nots are a little more subtle than this, but the evidence on how both are being treated are slapped all across the front page of today’s issue of the Star Tribune.
The bottom story, “Charities trimming turkey dinners,” is about how local charities have cut back on Thanksgiving dinners for poor people in the wake of the current economic state. According to the article, ICA Food Shelf gave 900 turkeys away last year. This year, the number dropped to 430 because of a lack of funds. Next to this article, in a green sidebar on the right side of the paper, a small snippet speaks volumes: “Nearly 1 in 7 parents with grown children say they had a “boomerang kid” move back him in the past year, said a Pew Research Center study. One in seven. That’s a quarter of a grade school classroom living with their parents.
Up higher on this page, in the same column, is a teaser called “A Festive Feast for the Obamas,” which outlines a “lavish outdoor feast” for their first state dinner. Close to 320 people attended the event, which is given more coverage on page A3. When I say “coverage,” I don’t mean, “article.” This is a full-page spread about the menu (created by guest chef Marcus Samuelsson), the entertainment (provided by Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, among others) and the gown Michelle wore (a champagne-colored number by Naeem Khan). The lead paragraph in the story drips with palpable awe and enthusiasm: “Each table for 10 was draped in green apple-colored cloths and napkins, offset by the sparkle of gold-colored flatware and china, including the service and dinner plates from the Eisenhower, Clinton, and George W. Bush settings. Floral arrangements of hydrangeas, roses and sweet peas in plum, purple and fuchsia were meant to evoke India’s state bird.”
This isn’t journalism. This is public relations fluff, and I am ashamed that news services spent the time and money to cobble this pageantry together. This smacks of the trappings of royalty, which, if memory serves, is one of the main reasons we split from the British in the first place. I’m also ashamed at the very fact that such luxury exists when so many are suffering. If George W. Bush had done this, in the midst of a recession, I could foresee calls from various corners saying that he is out of touch with Main Street and the common man (bear in mind, I am no fan of W.). But with the Obamas? It’s all apple-colored cloths and napkins, apparently.
This honeymoon crap needs to stop. The man has been in office for a year now. I for one would like to see an end to this type of fluff coverage. I understand – I get that Barack loves to play golf and basketball. I get that Michelle has an organic garden. I get that the kids love living in the White House. I get it. It’s been pounded into my brain over and over again by PR machinery that rivals the treads of an M-1 battle tank.
I get it – and I’m tired of it. It makes me angry that someone in Obama’s position could be so tone deaf in how this appears to people like me – taxpayers who can barely afford a meal at McDonald’s. I think the right thing to do in this situation would have been to take the money used to buy all of the glitz at that state dinner and donate it to the same food shelves that are trying to feed the have-nots, who don’t have the type of political connections to eat a “mostly vegetarian” meal off the White House finery. I think it would have been appropriate, given the current situation, to have a more restrained meal, perhaps even taking the time to recognize those who are going hungry or relying more on their local food shelves now than ever.
During the Civil War, Lincoln was outraged to find that his wife, Mary Todd, had been remodeling the White House without telling him.
“It would stink in the land,” he said, to ask Congress for more money “when the poor soldiers could not have blankets,” and paid the costs himself rather than approve any more bills for “flub dubs for that damned old house.” (“Did Lincoln own slaves? And other frequently asked questions about Abraham Lincoln” by Gerald J. Prokopiwicz).
It seems that Obama is unwilling even to give up the excesses of a state dinner. Is this the departure from “politics as usual” we were promised? If so, I’m disappointed.

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