Over the last seven years, the White House press corps has become accustomed to being able to closely observe the First Daughters Malia Obama, 17, and Sasha Obama, 14, only during their rare appearances.
The two presidential daughters have been front and center at larger public events like their father’s two presidential inaugurations, the annual children’s festival that is the Easter Egg Roll on the White House South Lawn and ceremonies like the annual acceptance (and pardon) of a Thanksgiving turkey on the North Portico.
The media and, through them, the American public were thus startled to see the two young women dressed in formal gowns and attending a White House state dinner as official guests, on Thursday, March 10, 2016.
The reason for this comparatively rare form of presidential entertaining, under the direction of the First Lady, was to honor another world leader’s child, Justin Trudeau, who followed his father’s path and went on to win his nation’s election as Prime Minister of Canada.
It was a school night to be sure, both girls being students at the local private institution Sidwell Friends School, but it was literally a matter of seconds for the Obama sisters to arrive on time for the event – and return home, upstairs to their rooms.
In fact, it was merely a matter of taking the elevator down from the family living quarters on the second floor to the state rooms on the first floor, and then back again.
They made a bit of entertainment news too. Among the guests were the Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds, a native of Canada, and his wife Blake Lively, and Sasha Obama was snapped gleefully interacting with him while her older sister gave her a thumbs up on the sidelines.
As might be expected, their appearance did not go without media commentary intended to generate a provocative public response. After San Francisco news anchor Kristen Sze of ABC posted a Tweet suggesting that the alleged cost of Sasha Obama’s gown was nearly twenty-thousand dollars, was too costly for a teenager to be wearing, she was inundated with critical opposition to the point of removing her original comment.
It seemed consistent with the only aspect of the Obama daughters that the national media could use as news: their clothes.
Starting with their father’s first Inauguration in 2009, what they were photographed wearing proved to be enough material to generate popular online articles, second only to similar coverage about their mother.
History proves, however, that the appearance of Malia Obama and Sasha Obama as White House state dinner guests is part of a long tradition.
In the case of the sisterly duo immediately preceding the Obama daughters, the twins Jenna Bush and Barbara Bush lived much as they did in terms of practically an absolute blackout on media coverage about them.
Thus, when the college grad twins each appeared at a state dinner hosted by their parents, there was great speculation about the true nature of their relationships with the men they chose to escort them.
Most recently was the May 7, 2007 state dinner for Queen Elizabeth hosted by their parents, which Barbara Bush attended.
In the next morning’s news, there was considerable speculation about the nature of her relationship with her escort, an old boyfriend and whether their joint appearance was intended to signal an imminent White House wedding. It wasn’t.
There was good reason for this. At the November 2, 2005 state dinner for British Prince Charles, Jenna Bush appeared with John Hager, who did end up becoming her husband.
Along with former First Lady Nancy Reagan, not only was the president’s daughter a guest, but so was the president’s sister, Doro Bush. She, of course, had also been a presidents daughter, the only one of George Bush. I was also the third time she attended a state dinner. Previously she had been to the state dinner honoring the King of Morocco, on September 26, 1991 as a First Daughter.
The first time she was invited along with a First Son, her brother Marvin, attending a February 20, 1991 state dinner honoring the Queen of Denmark.
Doro Bush’s presence there that night actually helped her father make a deft strategic move.
With his having just recently ordered U.S. military forces into Kuwait to battle Iraq, setting the Gulf War into motion, the President was besieged by reporters who had access to him before and after the meal.
Not wanting to discuss a military action then underway, he spotted Doro among the circulating guests, beckoning her to him. Then the President deftly slipped away, leaving her with the reporters fir an admittedly rare opportunity to interact with her. And he was able to avoid the questions at the time a military action was underway.