Now that Queen Elizabeth has concluded her visit to the United States, it's obvious that Americans have a huge affection for the British monarchy. We also have conflicted feelings about it. We view England's monarchy as antiquated, shockingly costly, silly, or, at best, quaint. We know that Queen Elizabeth doesn't really "rule" Britain, and many see her as just a figurehead. But thousands of Americans lined up just to get a glimpse of the Queen wherever she went. On TV, there were more shots of her at the Kentucky Derby than of the horses. And President and Mrs. Bush threw a white-tie-and-tails state dinner for her. If she's just an irrelevant figurehead, why all the fuss?
Americans are fascinated by the British monarchy. Queen Elizabeth has a higher approval rating among Americans than President Bush. Some Americans know the British order of succession better than they know our own. They can tell you the names of the six wives of Henry VIII, but can't name our last six presidents. Magazines chronicle every move by the queen's children and grandchildren. And don't say this is just because England is our closest ally. How many of you care about Prime Minister Tony Blair's personal life?
We seem to be attracted to the elaborate trappings of a monarchy, so long as we don't have to have one here. We live in an informal country in an informal era. We don't have a hundreds-year-old tradition of royalty, so in some ways, we enjoy borrowing England's.
Because President Bush is an informal guy, his hosting the very formal dinner at the White House piqued my interest. There were 134 people invited. Surprise, surprise, I didn't make the cut. But I wasn't insulted. After all, I hadn't invited the president to my house the other night to watch the Mayweather-De La Hoya fight.
However, President Bush's mother and father weren't invited to the state dinner, either. (How would you have liked to have made that phone call to Barbara Bush?)
Since it was such an exclusive affair, we can only imagine what went on there, just as we can only imagine what goes on inside Buckingham Palace. Here are my musings on the state dinner:
I'll bet none of the waiters called out, "OK, who ordered the kosher meal?"
If I had been there, I might have heard the following exchanges:
"Who's that sad-looking woman sitting way over there with the waiters?"
"No disrespect, but isn't it strange in this day and age for you to have a position that you think is ordained by God to give you power over your subjects?"
"It might be strange, but I love it," the president may have answered.
Maybe I would have overheard the queen say, "I can get some more emeralds for my crown now. When the prince wasn't looking, I put a few quid on the 7-8-2 trifecta."
Finally, I'm pretty sure nobody at the dinner said, "Believe it or not, I found this dress at Target."
Some people probably feel it was inappropriate to have such an elaborate dinner during wartime. Should the president even spend one minute worrying about how his fancy pants fit while Americans and others are dying in Iraq? The queen's grandson, Harry, could be in harm's way any day. Should she be eating a five-course meal in the White House while her "subjects" eat dry rations in the desert of Iraq?
Maybe I shouldn't be such a "party pooper." Having this dinner probably wasn't such a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with celebrating our relationship with Great Britain. And it's not like they would have come up with a Mideast peace plan Monday night if they hadn't had a party.
But I can't help thinking about the words of a White House official who described the dinner as "not only the social event of the year, but also of the entire Bush presidency." I wish that hadn't been said with such finality, because there is still a lot of time left in the Bush administration. And shouldn't we all be hoping that the "social event of the entire Bush presidency" will be a party to celebrate the end of the war?
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them purchased with money he saved by never renting white-tie-and-tails.
By Lloyd Garver