Grading Last Night's State Dinner

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President Obama held the third state dinner of his presidency Wednesday night to honor visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao. Considering the two men's frosty relationship and the White House's less-than-stellar track record on feting foreign dignitaries in a Salahi-free environment, the event attracted greater scrutiny than usual. How did it go? A variety of opinions from around the Web:

  • Well Done  The dinner was the cherry on top of a visit that left all parties temporarily satisfied, writes The New Yorker's Evan Osnos. "The Chinese were pleased to see months of testy relations sidelined for a few days of images would make Hu look like a world-class statesman on Chinese television." President Obama, for his part, "nudged debate over China’s political values back into the spotlight" while still keeping Hu happy, a maneuver "likely to defuse some of the criticism of the Administration for soft-pedalling human rights." Osnos cautions that the "underlying issues [between the two countries] remain," but notes a "civil event is no small achievement given how poor the mood was at their last summit, in Beijing."
  • Power Plays  The complicated relationship between the U.S. and China resulted in some subtle breaks from State Dinner traditions, notes Reuters White House Correspondent Patricia Zengerle. While the White House typically "pays tribute to its state dinner guests by planning menus that pay homage to the visitors' country" last night's offerings included "Maine lobster, steak and potatoes and apple pie with vanilla ice cream, accompanied by an array of U.S. wines." There were limits to the "'Quintessentially American'" design theme. "The dinner linens," writes Zengerle, "featured pheasants on patterned backgrounds in jewel tones, reminiscent of the work of the American naturalist artist John James Audubon. But the design was also a bow to China--the pheasant, the White House pointed out, is a native bird of China, revered for its beauty and seen as a symbol of nobility."
  • All Business  The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes that the 225 attendees were survivors of an "intense winnowing-down process by a White House confronted by some of toughest jockeying for invitations in recent memory." The guest list was particularly heavy on business leaders, including General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, a trend Stolberg says made sense considering how "President Obama used Mr. Hu’s visit to press China to open its markets to goods made by American companies."
  • About That Dress  Michelle Obama's fashion choices always attract scrutiny, but The Daily Beast's Robin Givhan argues the First Lady's red petal print Alexander McQueen gown said more about attitudes on Madison Avenue than Pennsylvania Avenue. "In wearing the gown to honor China," writes Givhan, "a country that many view with disdain for its abundance of cheap labor, counterfeit products, and poor labor practices, Mrs. Obama seemed to be recognizing the country's inevitable place in the fashion cycle and giving it its due." In the context of the president's remarks earlier in the day about the need for improved trade relations with China, the First Lady's haute couture functioned as an "optimistic celebration of all that fashion can be and seemed to suggest that China was welcome to be a part of that vision."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.