Thursday, May 22, 2008

Washington Social Diary

A cocktail and supper party last night at the Embassy Row home of David Bradley and his wife, Katherine to honor Howard Fineman and his new book, The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country.
By Carol Joynt

Washington is in the throes of a few traumatic currents at the moment. Will the Democratic primary race ever end and, if so, when and where? Congress is wrestling with the White House over a farm bill and with the oil companies over gas prices. And, there’s the undeniable and prevailing sadness over the news that Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy has brain cancer. They were among the conversations at a cocktail and supper party last night to honor Howard Fineman and his new book, The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country. It was at the Embassy Row home of Atlantic Media Company chairman David Bradley and his wife, Katherine.

In one corner of the living room, Newsweek investigative reporter Michael Isikoff and lawyer Bob Bennett pulled away from the crowd to talk about the FBI and CIA. In another, the irrepressible Chris Matthews railed on the campaign. Jane Harman, the Democratic congresswoman from California, sat at the piano, adjacent to Maine Senator Susan Collins. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff walked through the room and out to the garden. Nearby were Margaret Carlson and Debbie Dingell and Hillary Rosen. When Indiana senator (and Hillary Clinton supporter) Evan Bayh entered, someone shouted, “here comes the next vice president of the United States … maybe.” Lloyd and Ann Hand arrived. Atlantic CEO John Fox Sullivan confirmed that correspondent Linda Douglass, who’d been working for Atlantic Media’s National Journal, was in fact leaving the magazine to become Barack Obama’s spokeswoman. Dale Leibach talked about funeral arrangements for his late good friend, Hamilton Jordan, who died of cancer yesterday and was the former chief of staff to President Jimmy Carter.
David Bradley begins his toast to Howard Fineman.
Howard Fineman talks about beginning his career in Washington in 1978.
Toasts can be a lull in the action at many parties, but not when the speakers are David Bradley and Howard Fineman. Bradley, who publishes Atlantic Monthly, held up a copy of the competition, The New Yorker. Someone asked, “does this mean you’re going to buy it?” “No,” he said, but he said he did find Katherine reading it. “Only the part about Katie Couric,” she laughed. And then Bradley changed the subject to Fineman who, he said, “has as elegant a mind as I know.”

Bradley stood before French doors open to the garden. Near him were Katherine, and Howard and his wife, Amy Nathan, and their children, Meredith and Nicholas Fineman. Bradley said, “you may wonder why Atlantic Media is having a party for Howard Fineman. He does not write for us. He does not work for us. He does not appear on TV for us. But, we count him as a friend.”
Howard Fineman and his "good friend" Chris Matthews.
Katherine and David Bradley.
Howard said that when the book was completed he showed it to his daughter, who’s in college. “Dad,” she said, “it’s pretty good. It’s written to death, but it’s good.” He talked about his son’s reaction when he promoted the book on Jon Stewart’s talk show. “Dad,” he said, “you laughed like a girl.” Howard, who is Newsweek’s chief political correspondent as well as a regular on MSNBC, described himself as a “multi-platform content provider” and “an adjunct professor at MSNBC. I do everything but skywriting.”

He picked up the theme started by Bradley, about the strange ways of Washington friendships. “It is possible in the constant atomic fission of Washington to know people who are just friends.” He paid special tribute to Matthews, calling him the very closest of his friends and lauding his mastery of art of the argument.

“My first day here was with the Lousiville Courier-Journal in 1978,” Fineman recalled. “I came up from Kentucky. My first assignment was Carter’s State of the Union Address. As I arrived at the Hill it was a scene out of Currier and Ives. The snow, the quiet, the Capitol illuminated by TV lights. Back in those days they laid a fire in the fireplace in the press gallery, and I saw that and thought. ‘Boy, what a great privilege it is to be a reporter in this town.’”
The buffet dinner of all kinds of barbecue.
He stopped and picked up a couple of pieces of paper. He fumbled with them for a second and then began to read these words in a quiet and halting voice:

“And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now: 
’I am a part of all that I have met .... Tho much is taken, much abides .... That which we are, we are -- 
One equal temper of heroic hearts ... strong in will
 to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’ For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.’”

Rather quickly everyone recognized they were the words of Ted Kennedy in his keynote speech at the 1980 democratic convention in New York, when he failed in challenging incumbent President Carter for the nomination. Several people in the room recited the words with Fineman, almost like a hymn. It’s fair to say that hearing them made the hairs stand up on the backs of everyone’s necks.

There was practically a moment of silence. Howard put down the pages. “That was Ted Kennedy,” he said. “The best argument we can give the country at this time is that we all pray for Ted.”
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.