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Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Sealing grand alliances

CORRECTION TO THIS POST: Part of this from Johns Hopkins business school dean Yash Gupta, was originally published by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Information referring to Roosevelt's 1939 state dinner with King George VI information should have been presented as a quotation, with attribution to the museum. The lack of attribution was inadvertent, Gupta says.


As with so many activities and events involving the president, a White House state dinner conveys enormous symbolism. Who is invited? Who isn't invited? Who is sitting near the president? All these things are noticed, and they often have an impact that goes beyond bruising the feelings of those who didn't receive an invitation or who were invited but got seated at the back of the room.

These events have strategic importance as well. President Obama is trying to pass major legislation on health care, energy, and other issues, and so an invitation to his administration's first state dinner could go a long way toward softening the stance of a die-hard opponent or two in Congress. This is a different kind of bully pulpit at the president's disposal - one that comes with a lot more flash and glamor than, say, the podium in the press room, and is in its own way a very powerful political tool.

The same kind of chess game takes place in regard to foreign dignitaries who are asked - or not - to the dinner. You can be sure that the foreign leaders of the nations most important to the United States will not go without attention from the president. By the same token, major financial donors won't be left out in the cold when the hundreds of guests gather inside the big heated tent on the South Lawn of the White House.

The guest list isn't the only thing that observers will study. Matters of style also play an important role - the entertainment, the clothes, the food, the overall staging of the event. In the days after the dinner, these things will be discussed as much as who was (and who wasn't) invited, and they will be seen as symbols, for good or bad, of how this president, his wife, and his administration conduct themselves.

A historical example of the power of symbolic events is the visit of Britain's King George VI to the United States in 1939. No reigning British monarch had ever set foot on American soil, not even in colonial times. That state visit carried great significance in the history of Anglo-American relations. With Europe on the brink of war, then-President Roosevelt realized the necessity of fostering closer ties between the two democracies, and he pursued this change in foreign policy at the risk of losing domestic support from the very strong isolationist and anti-British segments of the electorate.

FDR planned every minute detail of the state visit to ensure the king's success in winning over the sympathy and support of the American people. The pomp and circumstance of the rituals surrounding the visit were important elements in this. And FDR's efforts paid off; King George VI's visit to the United States became a key component in developing a stronger political and social alliance between the U.S. and Great Britain, and eventually America's entry into WWII.

By Yash Gupta

 |  November 24, 2009; 11:26 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Leadership involves taking care of the people at home first. With figures of 25 and 35 per cent unemployment for young blacks, and God knows what in the rest of the population, I'm not too concerned about what the president does at a state dinner with a foreign leader. He's got things that need to be done here wih his bully pulpit so that jobs stop going to India. Ultimately, India isn't paying for our presence in that part of the world or parties on the White House lawn-- U.S. taxpayers are.

Posted by: CAMM1 | November 24, 2009 4:20 PM
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Obama's USA State dinner plans include having an outdoor tent to handle the overflow. Does our "Glorious Leader" now plan changing his name to Muammar ? (as in Muammar Al Ghadaffi)

Posted by: tucanofulano | November 24, 2009 3:04 PM
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There is no point in complaning about outsourcing. The same is happening here in Uk but then, it's the reality. We in the West advocated free trade and we should face the downside of it too.
I agree with the author that it is time the West took India into it's side, expand G8, accept India into the nuclear club. Thsi will put pressure on India to contribute more to the international efforts like terrorism, climate change, contribute to war on terror etc.

Posted by: k6raman | November 24, 2009 1:54 PM
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Dean Gupta, I sincerely hope you're following this thread.

If climate change is framed as some sort of moral imperative, then no progress is possible. If it appears to India that the US is setting a double standard, then again, no progress is possible. But if the United States spearheads a global effort to improve the return in every BTU and kWh purchased, then progress is inevitable. We face an historic opportunity in the historic LACK of opportunities we face: we have no choice except to improve. India cannot power the lives of a billion people using the same inefficiencies and laziness that were the poisonous privileges of 20th century America. It has to leap ahead.


Posted by: dfc102 | November 24, 2009 1:50 PM
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Perhaps they can chat about all the jobs that have departed the US for India.

Posted by: Georgetowner1 | November 24, 2009 1:39 PM
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