The big news over the weekend, that the Obama White House had a secret Alice and Wonderland-themed Halloween party, really didn’t surprise me. The taxpayer-funded event featured Johnny Depp in full Mad Hatter costume prancing on tables in the White House State Dining Room. Someone wore the actual Chewbacca Wookie costume, while guests drank punch from blood vials. (An aside: why is Halloween such a big event for some people, requiring excessive decorations and festivities?) The State Dining Room was turned into a Lewis Carroll-themed house of horrors for the invited guests.
Not surprisingly, the White House deliberately concealed the existence of the grotesque party from the public and the press corp. That pesky 16% real unemployment rate required stealth.
The Alice in Wonderland party won’t surprise anyone who has read my book Injustice, for Chapter Seven is actually titled “Through the Looking Glass.” The Justice Department held a similar bizarre party at the Mellon Auditorium courtesy of the taxpayers on April 27, 2010. They called it a “retreat,” but it had skits, singing, dancing, and of course free lunch for nearly 800 DOJ employees paid for by you. It also featured a bizarre agenda, almost as strange as Johnny Depp in Mad Hatter makeup dancing on tables:
Between the breakout sessions at the retreat, outlandish comedy took center stage. Like a campfire program at Cub Scout camp, all the Civil Rights Division’s sections participated in a skit contest. For weeks leading up to the retreat, DOJ employees spent work time writing scripts, singing songs, and rehearsing. Despite the festive nature of the skits, all scripts had to be submitted well ahead of time to a designee of the assistant attorney general for approval. The Civil Rights Division leaders couldn’t help themselves—their instinct to control extends even to bad community theater.
In all there were twelve skits to fill the day. The Voting Section sang songs about elections. Another section presented a faux TV newscast featuring clips from the TV show Glee. Lawyers took the stage to sing, dance, and act out.
The retreat was more than a frolic and detour. It was a policy rally right out of Wonderland:
There were breakout sessions discussing topics such as “emerging areas” in civil rights practice, “outreach to Muslims,” and “environmental justice,” as well as a session of the “LGBT [lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender] Working Group.” A session on “collaboration opportunities” included speeches on “collaboration with sister agencies,” “anti-immigration discrimination,” and something called “place based initiatives.” These are hardly pressing civil rights issues for most Americans, but like Lewis Carroll’s March Hare, many in the Civil Rights Division have “murdered time.” To them, it’s always 1964, with Jim Crow devising new schemes
As Injustice notes, Wonderland extends beyond a single DOJ retreat. It extends to lawsuits against school districts who stop children from coming to school dressed like transvestites in miniskirts and pink wings. It extends to giving DOJ lawyers cash bonuses for losing cases:
Consider the case of Lisa Stark, an attorney in the Appellate Section of the Civil Rights Division. In 2009, Stark received a cash “special commendation award” for her work in the human trafficking case United States v. Cha. The government’s appeal argued that the trial court had improperly suppressed evidence that supported the United States—the police had conducted a twenty-six-hour warrantless search of the Chas’ residence, and Stark was defending the use of evidence obtained in the search. The federal court of appeals ultimately rejected Stark’s appeal, but not before the DOJ gave her a cash award for her work on the case.
News accounts of the Halloween party report that the State Dining Room was turned into a horror set with a Tim Burton theme to coincide with the release of Alice in Wonderland. No photos have yet been released. Update: “The only known photos from the White House’s 2009 ‘Alice in Wonderland’ party.”) One cannot help but wonder if the State Dining Room fireplace was draped over in shame. For there, engraved in stone on the mantle, are the words of John Adams:
May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.