In a strange turn of events,
President Obama has quickly gone from gracious beer summit
moderator, to rude, inhospitable lunch host.
NBC, and Politico
(and probably many more media outlets) have reported on what was
intended to be a non-story:
Four of the most powerful business leaders in America arrived at
the White House one day last month for lunch with President Barack
Obama, sitting down in his private dining room just steps from the
But even for powerful CEOs, there’s no such thing as a free
lunch: White House staffers collected credit card numbers for each
executive and carefully billed them for the cost of the meal with
But the White House's attempt to
avoid a scandal has backfired. Officials defended the move by
that billing the businessmen was simply a way to avoid a conflict
of interest. Sounds reasonable enough, right?
Not really. The weirdness of this
whole situation stems from the peculiar assertion that offering
billionaire CEOs a free lunch would create a conflict of interest
in the first place. Conflict of interest concerns might make a bit
of sense if the CEOs were picking up the tab. Obama is a public
servant, after all. But if the White House is providing the lunch,
which interests would suddenly be conflicted?
The concern, I suppose, is that
giving these wealthy businessmen a free lunch would be tantamount
to bribery, an attempt to win their cooperation in government
schemes by sweetening the deal with tasty vittles. But something
tells me that even if a free lunch wasn't involved, CEOs of major
American corporations would have plenty of reasons to be nice to
Obama. He is the president, after all.