Recent headline: "President to host American Nobel winners, including Gore, at White House"
TO: The President
FROM: White House Scheduling Office
SUBJECT: Gore/Nobel Visit
We have finalized plans for today's visit by Al Gore, along with four other Americans who won Nobel Prizes this year. The attached schedule provides the standard time-and-place information regarding your participation; you'll note that it is, as is traditional, a relatively brief event.
Still, given the circumstances, there is some chance of discomfort at various points in the proceedings. According to our records, this appears to be Mr. Gore's first visit to the White House since leaving office in January of 2001. We thought, therefore, that it might be helpful to put together some brief guidelines for you, in consultation with the White House Office of Protocol. The people at Protocol are quite experienced at smoothing over potentially awkward situations; we hope you'll find these suggestions helpful in ensuring that the event goes forward without incident.
Welcome and Initial Conversation:
In light of Mr. Gore's high public profile, you should make every effort to greet and shake hands with him either first among the visitors, or last. Tucking a former vice president in between economists might be seen as a snub.
You should feel free, by the way, to address Mr. Gore as "Mr. Vice President." He retains this title throughout his life (unless he attains a higher office - ha!) and addressing him in that manner will neither confuse nor annoy Mr. Cheney, who, as you know, prefers to be addressed as "Your Highness" anyway.
Try to avoid comments or facial expressions that could be interpreted as gloating. Questions such as, "Didn't you used to work around here?" or, "Do you like how I decorated the Oval?" might be poorly received. The same holds true for more general statements, such as, "It was God's will" or even, "Loser!"
Unlike the case in most settings, the weather will not be a "safe" topic for small talk. Avoid it.
Ceremony and Prepared Remarks:
Self-deprecating humor goes a long way toward defusing tense situations. Consider a comment such as, "I know my dad used to call you 'Ozone Man' - but I never realized he meant it as a compliment!"
Treat each of the winners with respect, but be sure to convey a particular sense of pleasure in Mr. Gore's achievement. In certain circles, the Nobel Peace Prize is actually considered a high honor rather than a consolation prize.
Phrases like "I'm so glad you're here" are acceptable. Phrases like "All of a sudden, I've got a warm feeling inside" are probably not.
A reminder: There is no Nobel War Prize, so don't feel obliged to justify Iraq.
Photographs and Departure:
Although the urge will be almost irresistible, do not put fingers behind Mr. Gore's head during the photo op. It could strike some people as unpresidential. (Think "legacy.")
A firm handshake at the South Portico entrance, accompanied by a gentle pat on the back, will make for a dignified farewell for all concerned. Note: A "gentle pat on the back" does not include taping a "Kick Me Hard" sign to Mr. Gore's suit jacket, no matter what Mr. Rove may have suggested.
If you want this to be a brief event, under no circumstances should you say anything like, "So what kind of mileage does that thing get?"
Just so you know: We've checked it and rechecked it, as you requested. There is nobody anywhere on the guest list named "Chad."
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.