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Don't Set a Place for the Obamas

At left, then-Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton greets Pamela Harriman after a fund-raiser on the steps of her Georgetown home in August 1992; at right, President Barack Obama and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett walk to waiting helicopters after he spoke at a town hall meeting last month. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee; AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

When Michelle Obama slipped into the presidential box for the Kennedy Center's Spring Gala, the audience looked up and burst into applause. It was a coup for the center -- but the first lady and her posse (mom Marian Robinson, adviser Valerie Jarrett, social secretary Desirée Rogers) skipped the pre-concert dinner for a cozy meal at Art and Soul restaurant instead.

It's been four months since the Obamas moved into the White House, and they've ventured out for only one private dinner party: Easter supper at the Georgetown home of Jarrett, part of the tight-knit group they brought from Chicago. For all those high-profile restaurant dates and burger runs, the first couple still haven't accepted an invite from any of Washington's social doyennes -- and no, Obama's post-election dinner with conservative pundits at George Will's house doesn't count.

Former President Ronald Reagan, center, with his wife, Nancy Reagan, left, and then-Washington Post Chair Katharine Graham in March 1991. (AP Photo/Bebeto Mathews, File)Enlarge Image

The days when grand hostesses such as Katharine Graham and Pamela Harriman could beckon a president to their parties seem to have passed. Jack Kennedy dined with Joe Alsop; the Clintons with Harriman and Vernon and Ann Jordan; and George W. Bush made a rare foray to the home of Graham early in his first term. But for the most part, presidents tend to fall back on old favorites -- people and places -- when they manage to squeeze out a night for fun, just like the rest of the workaholics in this town.

"When you do have time, you want to spend it with your family and catch up with old friends," said Ann Stock, former White House social secretary. Another factor: Attending a social event in a private home entails advance scheduling, security teams and lots of support staff. "It's not as informal because it requires a lot of advance planning and work," she said.

There's one other factor: intimidation. "After all, this is the most important and busiest couple in the world," said former protocol chief Lucky Roosevelt. Roosevelt hosted Ronald and Nancy Reagan in her home after she casually said to the president, "I'm dying for you to see my new living room." He looked at her and said, "Why don't you invite me?" She jumped at the chance.

But a note of caution: The invitation was well into Reagan's third or fourth year in Washington. "I wouldn't have dreamt of asking him in the beginning," she said. "I would have thought it presumptuous."

By The Reliable Source  |  May 21, 2009; 1:03 AM ET
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First Lady...her posse... This isn't cute it's low class.

Posted by: rlj1 | May 21, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

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