“So much for the hair salon,” sighed ABC News’s Juju Chang as she slogged past reporters.
So it was that President Obama and the first lady welcomed Lee and 224 other guests for an evening of otherwise undampened spirits. It was the administration’s fifth state dinner, and it was beautiful — once people dried off.
“I’m going to be brief because President Lee has had a very full day — and a very wet day,” Obama said in his pre-dinner toast.
The South Korean president, who Obama revealed is known by the nickname “Bulldozer,” told a story of being a young boy and longing for American blue jeans. He also spoke, through an interpreter, about the “everlasting friendship” between his country and the United States: “We are gathered here to reaffirm our friendship and to renew our common commitment towards our shared goals.”
Bless the state dinner. Approval ratings can be down, the economy can be dank, but when a president puts on a tux, he looks good. Official. Presidential! The entire evening is crafted to showcase the Diplomat in Chief engaging on the international stage, which is especially good for an administration, such as this one, whose recent claims to fame have been foreign triumphs: Osama bin Laden felled, Iranian assassination plots foiled.
And for the rest of you: pretty dresses.
Michelle Obama selected a purple, one-shouldered gown by Doo-Ri Chung, a Korean American designer known for her draping. The first lady also sported a sparkly belt, a style she so often favors.
The biggest fashion treat came from the musical entertainment: R&B singer Janelle Monae wore an incredibly chic satin tuxedo with a teeny-tiny bow tie, towering heels and her trademark pompadour. A few women wore navy or silver, but most opted for black and more black — a safe choice that also turned out to be the best hue for hiding soaked hems.
Chang wore a purple dress chosen by voters — “The crowdsourcing was right,” she said, as she joined the slow parade of guests headed to the East Room for dinner.
The guest list was short on glitz, heavy on political clout. For the fifth time in a row, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) declined the president’s invitation for a state dinner. But an unusual number of administration officials got the nod: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, national security adviser Tom Donilon, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, press secretary Jay Carney and Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, Tina Tchen. Also, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and several senators and members of Congress, including John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).