Sally Quinn: The biggest difference is that entertaining now is so much more partisan. When I first came here, you’d go to dinner and all different political persuasions were represented. You were all working for the same country, but you differed in what you thought was best for the country.… The people who did the entertaining were women who today would have a career, and what they did for a living was to bring people together. At parties, a lot of news was made and deals were made.
Maureen Orth: When the Clintons came to town, in 1992, there was tangible excitement that these two attractive young couples, the Clintons and the Gores, would somehow revive Camelot. Instead, the Clintons got off to a shaky start, with the issue of gays in the military, Nannygate, the suicide of Vince Foster, Travelgate, the failure of Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan, and Whitewater. There were so many scandals that the White House came to see the press as the enemy, and the First Couple did not venture out much, but they sent loyalists such as Mack and Donna McLarty, who were Arkansas friends, and Vernon and Ann Jordan to cover Georgetown.
In the beginning, however, they also had a series of dinners in their private quarters. At one, which I attended with my husband, Bill Clinton gave a detailed tour of the Lincoln Bedroom. Later, that room would give rise to yet another scandal when it was revealed that wealthy donors were being invited to spend the night there. The Clintons did have a very lively, bipartisan engagement party early on for Bill’s adviser James Carville and his very Republican fiancée, Mary Matalin; they also entertained at informal “movie nights”; and they significantly helped the cause of peace in Northern Ireland by beginning an annual White House St. Patrick’s Day party, which both sides—who would never ordinarily venture into the same room together—attended. The Clintons, however, appeared in the end to view the White House not as a vibrant salon in which to host the best and the brightest, but as coveted real estate that could be used for fund-raising.
Dee Dee Myers: The Democratic National Committee controlled who was invited. They brought in Clinton people from all over the country. They called it “political-base building” and the white-hot center was the White House. Los Angeles was huge. When the film-production company DreamWorks was being launched, I remember walking out of the grand hallway during a state dinner, and on a bench, deeply engrossed, were David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, and Jeffrey Katzenberg [the founders of DreamWorks]. The Clintons expanded the size of state dinners and had them in a tent. They had two or three events and lined them up for a week in the tent. They had the Emperor of Japan in a tent. The thing about the Clintons is that more is always more. It loses intimacy and grace.
Liz Stevens: If some cause needed help, the Clintons were willing to have an event. The staff was exhausted. They were constantly feeding people.
Sally Quinn: In terms of entertaining being partisan, it started with Clinton. The people who were seen as “hostesses” were people who had money or were raising money.… When the stuff about Clinton and women started appearing, in the second term, things shut down. Everybody wanted to go hide in a cave. For people willing to defend him, it became intolerable for them to go out.
Obama seems to have learned a lot from Clinton's mistakes. Let's hope he learned this too. The Village tabbies will not be ignooored. Word to the wise. One simply doesn't invite the riff raff to the white house and one pays attention when one is told how to behave. Or else.