Gratuitum prandium non existet.

July 31, 2009



Back in the days when I was somebody, I had lunch a couple of times at the White House. Well, in the interest of full disclosure I should admit that I had lunch at the White House precisely because I was nobody. I don’t know if this is still true, but for a couple of administrations anyway the White House would invite “out-of-town” editors to stop in for a day — “out of town” editors meaning those whose publications were not significant enough to have regular representation in the capital.

One of my visits occurred during the Reagan administration. It consisted of a series of individual briefings by the top cabinet members and by George H. W. Bush, who was then vice president. I took some great pictures of Jeane Kirkpatrick, giving no thought to what I would do with them.

At lunch time, we out-of-towners were ushered into the East Room, which had been done up for a banquet. A Marine chamber group played and we lunchers were served by the liveried staff as though we … well, as though we were somebody. There were other guests there — no doubt a little more influential than any of us — and Ronald Reagan gave a talk. That was our contact with the president.



My first visit was during the Carter administration. There were morning briefings similar to those in the Reagan era and a discussion in the Cabinet Room in which we and Jimmy Carter were the only participants. Between the briefings and the meeting with the president, we were ushered into a large mundane business office whose occupants apparently had been shooed away. On one of the desks were trays of sandwiches and canned soda. This, we were told, was “a Carter lunch.” Presumably there were messages in all this about access to the president and about care for the public’s money.

I see by the papers that the Obama administration has taken the second part of that message a little further and is requiring some visitors, and even some staff members, to pay for what they eat when they are chatting with his excellency. Calvin Coolidge would have liked that.

The story, from the Christian Science Monitor, is at this link:


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