The President Learns It's Good to Be the King
With etiquette handbooks at the ready, the White House was in a high state of faux pas alert for Queen Elizabeth II's visit yesterday. Still, President Bush lasted only about 14 minutes into the state arrival ceremony before implying that the British monarch is 300 years old.
"You've dined with 10 U.S. presidents," Bush said on the South Lawn with the 81-year-old sovereign at his side. "You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in seventeen s --" -- here the president caught himself -- "in nineteen seventy-six."
The crowd laughed. Bush looked at Her Majesty -- and winked. Elizabeth smiled politely and said something that sounded like "some year," or "you're near" or even "oh, dear."
"She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child," a quick-thinking Bush reported back to the assembly.
At least he didn't credit her with signing the Magna Carta.
In the days before yesterday's state visit, the talk was all about how the regular-guy president disliked all the pomp that comes with a royal function. Don't believe it. As they say in Texas: Balderdash and poppycock.
True, the state dinner last night forced Bush to stay up beyond his bedtime, and wearing tails is a hassle for pretty much every man who doesn't sing with the Whiffenpoofs. Also, such events bring bad memories: At a similar pageant last year, the Chinese president was heckled by a Falun Gong protester and the White House announcer confused China and Taiwan.
But the president seemed to be enjoying himself mightily yesterday. After Bush and the first lady took an impromptu walk with the queen and Prince Philip across Pennsylvania Avenue to Blair House, White House pool reporter Tara Copp of the Austin American-Statesman reported that "the president was in as sunny a mood as the sky above."
And why shouldn't he be sunny? The queen would not bicker with him about the Baghdad security plan, and there would be no prickly news conference in which he would be asked about the Newsweek poll putting his support at 28 percent, equal to Jimmy Carter's in 1979. Yesterday gave Bush a chance to put aside the messiness of being head of government and enjoy the trappings of being head of state: cannons on the Ellipse, an Army fife-and-drum corps, a troop review and red geraniums on the South Portico.
The profusion of pageantry evidently overwhelmed "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts, who, having secured an invitation to the state dinner, began the day with a breathless interview from the White House with Laura Bush.
"The excitement continues to build," Roberts reported. "The White House is taking on an air of royalty this morning. . . . And I'm telling you, what a delight."
"A very happy occasion," the first lady agreed.