Miss Rogers's neighborhood
At President Clinton's state dinner for then-South African President Thabo Mbeki, White House Social Secretary Capricia Marshall made a very gracious offer. For dessert, she would swap places with my mother, who was seated in another part of the tent. Marshall's name was not on the official guest list. Perhaps she was filling in for a last-minute no-show. But I bring this story up because folks are now asking why current White House Social Secretary Desirée Rogers had a seat at the state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It's an unfair question since others have done it. But it's still an appropriate one for people to ask.
In her excellent, if devastating, piece on Rogers, Post writer Robin Givhan made a very important observation. "[Rogers] was not the first social secretary to be seated at a state dinner," she noted, "although others typically pulled up a chair only after they'd mastered the role." While Rogers has been in the job for nearly a year, this was the Obama administration's (and Rogers's) first state dinner. Marshall, now the U.S. chief of protocol, defended Rogers in the story, saying, "Having observed Desirée that evening, she sat for a total of about five minutes....She worked around the clock; she did what she needed to do."
But Givhan had another interesting insight. Rogers came to the White House from Chicago, where she had social stature and wealth that far exceeded that of her friends formerly of the South Side. Rogers is a long-time friend of the Obamas, but she is staff now, and that requires a quieter mien. "In recent years," Givhan noted, "social secretaries had always quashed their own public profiles, demurred from seeking the limelight, in service to their position and in deference to the first lady." That might be tough for Rogers. She's no diva. But as one friend put it, "She is a star who has taken a gig in the chorus."
The Secret Service has fallen on its sword more times than necessary for the breach of security that allowed Tareq and Michaele Salahi to crash the Nov. 24 dinner. The latest mea culpa occurred before the House homeland security committee on Thursday. Noticeably absent were the Salahis and Rogers. I understand the administration's invocation of executive privilege. There's the whole separation of powers issue. Also, this doesn't rise to the level of, say, who knew what about the nefarious activities at Abu Ghraib. But I wish Rogers would work something out so that she could voluntarily go to the committee to discuss social secretary's office, what happened the night of the state dinner and how things will change.
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