Friday, September 19, 2008

Washington Social Diary

Enroute to the Reagan Building, which is just to the right. Wednesday evening, 6:30 p.m., Sept. 17.
By Carol Joynt

Thanks to light traffic I arrived earlier than expected at the Ronald Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue for the annual Reagan Freedom Award Dinner. The building, from the drafting table of the late James Ingo Freed, is, like Reagan himself, tall and handsome, and one is drawn to stand and stare, which is what I did, until a man approached. Secret Service. “You’ll have to move now. We’re expecting an arrival.” He was cute and polite (they usually are). “Will he be here soon? I asked. “She, m’am, it’s a she.” Nancy Reagan was on her way.

Nancy Reagan and her attentive "date," Robert Higdon.
I slipped inside the building, through the elaborate security, found a quiet corner, and waited. Soon there was activity at the front doors, a small human swarm and in the middle this diminutive figure, moving tentatively. The former First Lady, in a beautiful sparkling tunic and white pants, had her hand firmly on the arm of her escort, Robert Higdon.

She was frail, and a formidable pair of glasses overwhelmed her eyes, but when Robert introduced us, she smiled and put out her hand. I asked for a picture. She and Robert collectively removed the glasses.

They took the elevator to a holding area adjacent to the VIP reception. I took the steps, and once in the room caught up with Bob Colacello while keeping an eye on the door and the arrivals – one after another – of the Reagan faithful.

When Nancy Reagan emerged they pounced, seeking a hug, a handshake, a photo, a word, as if just touching her gave off a fairy dust of Reagan magic. All the energy in the room tilted toward Mrs. Reagan. Higdon stayed tight by her side. Tiny Natan Sharansky, the Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident and prisoner, and the evening’s honoree, was nearby, too. Plus, all those gun-packing agents.
The front of the Ronald Reagan Building, with photogs lined up and ready to shoot Mrs. Reagan's arrival. Dinner is almost on...
Two views as Natan Sharansky addresses the audience members, who paid upwards of $1250 for individual tickets to $100,000 for a table for ten.
The table setting ...
The salad. There's a large cut of filet mignon under all those potatoes, wild mushrooms and asparagus tips.
Republican fundraiser and consultant Rachel Pearson and I sought a quiet spot where we could talk and have a drink. We found it on the other side of the room, but what we also found, standing virtually alone, was Cindy McCain, wife of the republican nominee. For a woman on a grueling schedule, she looked rested and golden – the suit, the hair. Rachel and Cindy talked republican math, while I wondered why Mrs. McCain and Mrs. Reagan weren’t together. Wouldn’t that be the money shot? Was there some line drawn here, seen only by skeptics like me? The two women, plus Sen. McCain’s mother, Roberta McCain, did have a private chat in the holding room, but no press photos. Plus, they entered the reception separately. No big deal, but odd at election time.

In the large hall where the dinner and speeches were served they sat on the same side of the head table, with a man in between, and I watched, but there was no apparent interaction. Meanwhile, one table over, were a cozy Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager, and Hadassah and Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut “independent democrat.” This trio shared lots of interaction, and oh, to be listening in, because it’s no secret that while Sarah Palin got the nod, it was Sen. Lieberman who John McCain fancied as his running mate.
A politically interesting arrangement: McCain campaign manager Rick Davis with Hadassah and Joe Lieberman ... the almost GOP Veep nominee? The Naval Academy Glee Club serenades in the background.
Kathy Gregg and her husband, republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. McCain Campaign manager, Rick Davis.
McCain was scheduled to appear at the dinner, and he did pop up in a video, but what the party stalwarts got for their $1250 per person, was Cindy. She paid tribute to Sharansky as having been a prisoner like her husband: “John for serving his country and Natan for serving his conscience.” Later, Sen. Diane Feinstein, the California democrat, touchingly thanked Nancy Reagan for “showing us there is a great love in life.” Mrs. Reagan sat quietly, taking it in, including, probably, many ghosts.

Among the many at the dinner were: Sam Donaldson, who was master of ceremonies and his wife, Jan Smith; Barby Allbritton, Joe Allbritton, Michael Castine, Carolyn Deaver, Tom Korologos, Fred Ryan, Genny Ryan, Leonard Silverstein, James Billington, Sallie Boyle Phillips, Dave McIntyre, Terry, Debbie and Sean Lanni, Tania Paiva, Martin Indyk, Franco Nuschese, Mandy Ourisman, Roy Pfautch, Liz Murray, Paul and Carol Laxalt, Jacqueline Mars, Gerald and Robin Parsky, Marlene Malek, Kit and Linda Bond, John Walters, Steve Preston, Steve Johnson, John Mica, Buck McKeon, Dana Rohrabacher, Jim and Annette Conway, Mary Bomar, Yoriko Fujisaki, and Ken Calvert.
Bonding biographers, Sally Bedell Smith and Bob Colacello. Alexandra Fielding Wilson and her father, Fred Fielding.
Nancy Taylor Bubes with McCain advance man Christian Cook, former White House social secretary Gahl Burt, and Rachel Pearson. Former solicitor general Theodore Olson and Millie Hallow of the National Rifle Association.
Robert and Rebecca Fisher. Rachel Pearson, republican senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, and daughter Beth Stevens.
Recipient of the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award, Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident and political prisoner, Natan Sharansky. Joanne and Jack Kemp.
David Deckelbaum and Beth Glassman. Roberta McCain, mother of the republican presidential nominee.
Rachel Pearson and Cindy McCain. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the "independent democrat" from Connecticut.
Texas republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Linda Bond, the evening's organizer. California democratic senator Diane Feinstein.
Nancy and Alan Bubes. J. Willard Marriott, Jr., and his wife, Donna Garff.
Mary Anne Goldberg, with her daughter and son-in-law, Cathy and Michael Busch. House republican whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and his wife, Abigail Blunt.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.