Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Queen Meets The King of Gaffes

Should one ever wink at the Queen?

That would be a firm, "No."

The British tabloid media are having a field day mocking "Dumb Dubya" over his solid gold gaffe right in front of Her Majesty.

He meant to say "1976" in reference to the Queen's visit to the US to celebrate the 200th anniversary of when American revolutionaries, representing the 13 colonies, released their Declaration of Independence, formally declaring a split from the mother land of the Queen Elizabeth II's ancestor, George III.

But W. being W. started to say "1776" instead, which would have made the Queen a very old woman indeed. He would have gotten away with it, if he had moved on. But he didn't. Bush paused and waited for the laughs, as thought the mistake was scripted, just another 'Bushism'. And the laughs came on strong from the crowd of thousands gathered on the White House lawn.

Bush winked at the Queen, she gave him a withering look that bordered on disdain. Bush turned it into another joke : "She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child."

The Queen was clearly not amused. For a few seconds anyway.

"He's got the gift of the gaffe," thundered one British tabloid. The mockery filled the newsracks across England :
The nation's biggest-selling paper, the tabloid Sun, accused Mr Bush of making "one of his great verbal blunders'' while the The Times headlined its piece: "Oops, he did it again.''

"On a morning that should by rights have been frozen in time as a moment of pure pageantry, with military marching bands, pipers trucked out in tricorn hats and powdered wigs, and visiting royalty, one can count on George Bush,'' the Guardian said.

"The President yesterday once again demonstrated his gift for the gaffe, injecting an unintended sense of levity into the White House welcome for the Queen.''
The Daily Mail asked: "Is he winking at One?'' and said that Mr Bush could have tried to recover from his initial blunder in several ways.

"But turning to her and giving her a sly wink is probably not included in any book of royal etiquette,'' it said.

In an editorial, The Daily Mirror dubbed Mr Bush "Dumb Dubya".

"Her majesty's withering look spoke volumes, giving the watching public and the President a very clear message.

"Which is more than he ever manages.''

The welcoming of the Queen to the White House was one of the most regal events staged there in decades (see the photo below), and it should have been a smooth and successful distraction for everyone from the rapid decay of the presidency, rotting from within over the Iraq War and numerous scandals involving some of Bush's closest political allies.

Bush made sure it was memorable. Unlike previous gaffes, mistakes and misspeaks, he only had to say two digits to kick off this minor bungle.

Bush had been there with the Queen before, as a much younger man. When the Queen visited the White House of his father in 1991, he informed Her Majesty (drunkenly some recollect) that he was "the black sheep" of the Bush dynasty.

"Who's the black sheep in your family?" Bush asked the Queen, but his mother intervened, snapping, "You don't have to answer that."

According to the White House website's photo page, this grand image shows : The U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps marches across the South Lawn during the Arrival Ceremony for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh Monday, May 7, 2007, on the South Lawn.

From the UK Daily Mail :

White House aides have apparently described the dinner in the Queen's honour as the social event of the entire Bush presidency.

George Bush's father, George Bush Snr, branded it "the hottest ticket in town."

The Times remarked: "It will be closely watched by the social elite for its collision of cultures - Texas swagger meets British prim.

"Dinner attire is white tie and tails, the first and, perhaps, only white-tie affair of the Bush administration.

"The president was said to be none too keen on that, but bowed to a higher power, his wife."

From the Washington Post :

Throughout the day, official remarks ricocheted between gravitas and gaiety, the president soberly referring to terrorism, the first lady extolling spun-sugar flowers, the queen talking high-tech.

"I particularly look forward in the next two days to seeing at firsthand something of how the cutting edge of science and technology can take us to the next phases of discovery and exploration in human endeavor," the queen said in her prepared remarks.

"It was just a family, relaxing luncheon," Laura Bush later reported, noting that two presidential siblings, Dorothy and Marvin, were there along with Sir David Manning, the British ambassador to Washington. There was no word on whether Elizabeth, who herself owns 14 dogs, had made the acquaintance of four-legged Bush family members Barney and Miss Beazley.

Afterward, the Bushes accompanied the royal couple across the street to their guest quarters at Blair House, stopping along the way for an unannounced appearance before 369 squealing elementary and middle school children from the IDEA charter school and the British School in the District.

By all accounts the white tie and tails state dinner later in the day went smoothly enough, but there was clear tension on the face of Laura and George W. Bush during the speeches.

UPDATE : The formal white tie dinner did go well, and the Washington Post raves about it here as probably the most successful 'social' events of the entire Bush presidency :

The most elegant Washington evening in a decade, last night's state dinner for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, took place on a velvet-smooth night that made Washington appear more beautiful, a little softer around the edges, than it might actually be.

President Bush, who his wife said had to be talked into hosting his first white-tie dinner, appeared to love it.

He stepped onto the front portico of the White House in the early dusk, jovial and laughing, the first lady at his side. A casual man, bedeviled by the lowest presidential approval ratings in a generation, he appeared, for once, to revel in the pomp and ceremonial trappings of the office.

He came down the red-carpeted steps to welcome the queen as she stepped from a black Chevy SUV. It has been 56 years since her first state visit to Washington (when Harry S. was running things), and the monarch, without a word, showed how it's done:

She wore a white gown with a beaded bodice and chiffon skirt, but what you really noticed was the tiara given to her by her grandmother (Queen Mary), plus a three-strand diamond necklace, a diamond bracelet, a pearl watch, three brooches on a formal blue sash, diamond drop earrings and a silver purse.

Suffice it to say it glittered.

All the stately gowns proved to be a hazard for the menfolk. Oil kazillionaire T. Boone Pickens kept stepping on his wife's train. "I tell ya, that dress is driving me crazy," he said with a laugh.

At this party there was no duplicate of Laura Bush's gown: The embroidered turquoise silk faille with a matching embroidered bolero was created just for her by designer Oscar de la Renta.

The dinner was held in the State Dining Room. At the head table, the queen was seated on Bush's right, Nancy Reagan on his left. To the queen's right was Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.; Alma Powell, wife of former secretary of state Colin Powell; Arnold Palmer; Ashley Manning; Nantz, Tricia Lott; and former secretary of state George Shultz.

The first lady sat next to Prince Philip. Her table also included Rice and first brother Jeb Bush. Colin Powell was seated nearby, across from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly turned down the invite).

The toasts, if predictable, were heartfelt. The president raised a glass to the queen and the "valiant people of the United Kingdom."

In her response, Queen Elizabeth harked back to her youth. "My generation can vividly remember the ordeal of the Second World War. . . . For those of us who have witnessed the peace and stability and prosperity enjoyed in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe over these postwar years, we have every reason to remember that this has been founded on the bedrock of the Atlantic Alliance." She then cited problems facing this generation: Iraq, Afghanistan, climate change and poverty. But, she said, "together with our friends in Europe and beyond, we can continue to learn from the inspiration and vision of those earlier statesmen in ensuring that we meet these threats and resolve these problems."

Washington Times : Elizabeth II Welcomed In Style - Bush Thanks Queen For Her Nation's Support In Raising Young Democracies In Iraq And Afghanistan

Capital Goes GaGa Over Queen For A Day

Don't Believe The Hype, Bush Loved The Glamour, Fuss And Pagentry