MovieMonday: The White House “Covered Up” an Alice in Wonderland-themed Halloween Party in 2009

January 9th, 2012

It was October of 2009 near the end of President Obama’s first year in the White House. The Tea Party was at its zenith, raging across America in full swing in opposition to Washington’s Wall Street bailouts, the trillion dollar stimulus package from earlier that year, Obama’s health care plan, a lagging economy, and a 10-percent unemployment rate. The previous month, one million Tea Party activists swarmed Washington DC to make their voices heard (yes, one million, probably more!). Obama was under close scrutiny and facing strong criticism (some of it warranted, some of it maybe a little far-fetched) for every liberty he took, from his ritzy Valentine’s Day vacation with Michelle Obama, to his occasional indulgence of a cigarette, to his golf game. So of course, we all remember the fallout over Obama’s lavish, star-studded, Alice in Wonderland-themed Halloween party that October, right? No? That’s because the White House was awfully shy about publicizing the details of Obama’s Halloween “tea party” with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton while facing the rage of America’s grassroots Tea Party protests and the suffering of Americans struggling for jobs in a lagging economy.

According to a new book by by New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor, the White House was nervous about a backlash against the movie-themed Halloween party and kept publicity of the event very tightly controlled:

A White House “Alice in Wonderland” costume ball — put on by Johnny Depp and Hollywood director Tim Burton — proved to be a Mad-as-a-Hatter idea that was never made public for fear of a political backlash during hard economic times, according to a new tell-all.

“The Obamas,” by New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor, tells of the first Halloween party the first couple feted at the White House in 2009. It was so over the top that “Star Wars” creator George Lucas sent the original Chewbacca to mingle with invited guests.

The book reveals how any official announcement of the glittering affair — coming at a time when Tea Party activists and voters furious over the lagging economy, 10-percent unemployment rate, bank bailouts and Obama’s health-care plan were staging protests — quickly vanished down the rabbit hole.

“White House officials were so nervous about how a splashy, Hollywood-esque party would look to jobless Americans — or their representatives in Congress, who would soon vote on health care — that the event was not discussed publicly and Burton’s and Depp’s contributions went unacknowledged,” the book says.

However, the White House made certain that more humble Halloween festivities earlier that day — for thousands of Washington-area schoolkids — were well reported by the press corps.

The photo at the top of this post comes courtesy of Verum Serum, where the blogger opines that “As is often the case, the cover-up is worse than the crime.” The blogger there also did some excellent investigative journalism, digging up some photo evidence that had been long buried and responding to White House claims that the Alice in Wonderland-themed party was not being kept secret by the administration. Their official response, however, only acknowledges the event held for school children and military families that the original allegations in Kantor’s book already address. Far from claiming the White House covered up these festivities, the book alleges that the White House was happy to cover these events, and uses that to contrast the White House and media’s radio silence over the Alice in Wonderland-themed costume ball later that night. And the “extremely detailed and colorful pool report” that emerged from the party, which the White House blog invites readers to investigate, makes no mention of Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, nor the Alice in Wonderland-themed ball. The blogger at Verum Serum also points out the irony of a White House blog post that appeared the day before their secret party, touting the administration’s transparency “like you’ve never seen before” with regard to disclosing White House visitors. Hey Obama did campaign on audacity!

After this story broke yesterday, I was reminded of an article I wrote not long after the White House’s Halloween party, entitled “Alice in Wonderland is really about health care reform.” In it, I wrote:

Wonderland, you see, is a perfectly nonsensical world. Nothing is logical there, and while it may be very entertaining to enjoy on a big screen or from the comfort of your couch, I doubt very many people would elect to live in such a strange and terrifying world. Nothing in Wonderland is what it seems, so it’s impossible even for a rational person to behave rationally, because they cannot know what to expect. The strange and terrifying world of health care is no different.

Nothing in the health care industry is logical or sensible. Price and market distortions of every kind make the whole process such a tangled mess of confusion, ambiguity, and perverse incentives that there can be no wonder that prices are rising so dramatically while the quality of service deteriorates. When you walk into an auto-mechanic store and ask for an oil change, the salesman quotes you a price straightaway. But try asking the people in an emergency room how much they charge for stitches and see if you’ll get a straight answer from anyone!

In reality, toothbrushes cost a few dollars at most, but in the “wonderland” of health care, things have gotten so bizarre that CNN recently did a special report on thousand dollar toothbrushes among other gross distortions of the price and quantity system in health care. Things like this are happening all over the country because the system is too big and too complicated. Prices don’t reflect reality because people are insulated from the price of health care by layer after layer of bureaucracy, of both the government and corporate variety.

A constant theme of the Alice in Wonderland movie is the question of whether or not Alice is sane. The viewer can see though, that she is not crazy at all.  In fact, she seems to be the only sane person walking around in Wonderland. Likewise, America’s tangled wonderland of health care is enough to make any of us question our own sanity as we struggle to understand and survive in a system that simply makes no sense. With its one-size-fits-all “solutions”, many Americans are left feeling like Alice, who is alternatively stretched, and grown, and shrunk, and forced to fit in a tea pot- all to accommodate the grotesque distortions of size and quantity in Wonderland.

I guess an Alice in Wonderland party suited the Obama White House very well!

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About the Author: Wes

Wesley Messamore, 24, is an independent journalist and political activist who believes in the Founding Father's vision of a free, enlightened, and moral America. He also blogs at HumbleLibertarian.com