Dining Words: Who does the President eat with?

Christopher Hitchens left a particularly biting assessment of the fortieth President in Monday’s “Fighting Words” column in Slate, including this characterization:

“Ronald Reagan was neither a fox nor a hedgehog. He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies….”

This quote has been pasted into 36 websites, mostly blogs, most of them without any substantive comment beyond agreeing or disagreeing with Hitchens’ overall assessment. One notable talking head who reacted to the piece was Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online, who observed: “I’m not sure what to make of this. I think the piece on the whole is so full of cheap shots that whatever cleverness Hitchens is attempting here is drowned by the bile.” My initial comments on it were that Hitchens skipped the chance to riff on President Kennedy’s quip about the Nobel Laureates gathered for a White House dinner. To Kennedy, they represented “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

More importantly, can you judge a man by who he dines with? Is there a publicly-accessible record of who Reagan dined with, or any comparable records for the dinner companions of the more recent Presidents? The current I don’t think this information is particularly hard to collect– it is most certainly computerized by now. It probably ought to be of public interest who our top government officials meet with every minute of the day (and the Supreme Court will be deciding whether what they discuss shall be made public), but just listing the dinner guests should be a good start.

Google reported 657 hits for dinner on the White House website — mostly remarks at state dinners and fundraising dinners. So I submitted a question through the White House Interactive, which has posted answers to some softball questions, at around one a day, for the last three months. (This website, by contrast, lists only hard questions). What’s charming about the White House site is that it shows all of the diverse faces which make up the administration. I’m looking forward to hearing from Melissa Bennett, Special Assistant to the President and Director for Appointments and Scheduling.

Not having full faith in the White House to deliver, I thought I’d try asking Slate readers, as well as participants on a couple of “knowledge-sharing” websites. Follow along here:

And, hedging my bets against the proficiency of the common public to dig up an answer, I’ve asked a couple of newshounds I know who might have an idea. An assessment of the President’s intelligence is at stake.

I’ll report back here with the results.

June 28th update: Nothing, nada, zip. Nobody on these “knowledge sites” has been able to help. Granted, it’s not like asking how to set up an underground sprinkler system; I asked a question which very few public citizens could possibly know offhand. But I thought at least Slate would have an answer for me. The best I got there was somebody pointing out that I could ask the White House. Which I did. Meanwhile, the “White House Interactive” site no longer limits itself to what I called “softball” questions; the last few questions on the site have asked pointed questions about the war on terrorism and Iraq, and in the last few weeks, questions have been fielded about policy regarding the national debt and medical informatics.