Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Washington Social Diary

The Washington Monument, shaken by the recent earthquake, akin to the public's shaken faith in Washington's political, financial and media establishments.
by Carol Joynt

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was to have been dedicated back in the summer. In fact, those of us who drive by it on a regular basis noticed a virtual rush to completion to meet the dedication date. But then, Hurricane Irene blew up the Mid-Atlantic coast and even though it ended up being more of a bust than a blow – in Washington, at least – organizers opted to postpone the ceremonies. Now, the dedication will happen at the end of this week. Over Columbus Day weekend we went for a visit with Dr. King.

It’s a majestic monument, but what’s surprising is that King’s sculpted image is gruff. I was a teenager in his time, and remember him and the impact of his actions and words, and especially his murder, but the recollections are of a man more animated than the memorial conveys. He’s been given historical gravitas, and perhaps that’s the way it has to be. What I liked was the constant flow of people posing at the base of the memorial and how – in contrast to his almost angry demeanor -- they smiled broadly for photographs. Maybe that’s the point; he helped get us to where we can stand at his feet and smile.
Visitors to the Martin Luther King Memorial,
which will be dedicated this weekend.
MLK looks intense, even angry, a sharp contrast to the smiles of those who pose at the memorial's base. Maybe that's the point of the fierce design.
Posing in front of the MLK Memorial.
But what would he make of us now, in financial disrepair, political dysfunction and marking the 10th anniversary of a fruitless war in Afghanistan? His memorial is easy walking distance to the memorial of a president who brought us out of a “great depression” and into a “good war,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The memorial to FDR is, in my opinion, among the capital’s most splendid. In purpose, it is a tribute to the spirit of the 32nd President, but in style it is a tour de force of landscape architecture and the splendor of water. It’s vast, and he seems so small in bronze in his wheelchair. I’ve written this before here, but best of all is to visit the FDR memorial after dark, when the many waterfalls dance with light.

I wish the MLK Memorial had a little more of that splendor. It suffers right now from landscaping that is out of scale with the monument itself. The trees feel too small, too young and the plantings diminutive. That imbalance will change with time, obviously. The MLK National Memorial website states the funding organization is still six million dollars short of “the $120 million needed.” The installation does have the advantage of being on the banks of the Tidal Basin, home to the famous cherry trees, which means that come spring Dr. King will gaze (or glower) at a vast ring of beautiful pink blossoms on a par with his own dynamic presence.
The MLK memorial shares a park with the FDR memorial, which is among the most resplendent of Washington monuments.
Standing there, looking up at him, I thought about what MLK would make of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Would he be supportive? Probably so, if for no other reason than it is about venting frustration. He’d probably understand The Tea Party, too, because he understood vexation with the established order. We, especially baby boomers, and our children, have become woefully well behaved. Whatever happened to outrage? Is our great national energy now relegated to text voting on dance shows, posting an updated “status” on Facebook and standing in line at Starbucks? It feels that way. So, speaking only for myself, I say hooray for protest movements. Enough with complacency.

While the Washington Monument was shaken by the recent earthquake, the people who live in this city, the people who run the country, seem yet to be stirred. Those who are not of Washington may not know this or they may suspect it, but there is an insularity here that is dismaying. The establishment – White House, Congress, media – hang out principally with each other at private breakfasts, lunches, dinners and galas, where it’s tough to hear the public torment except anecdotally. Members of Congress race home on weekends to raise campaign funds. The President travels in a bubble, almost literally. The notable media celebrities get their “beyond the Beltway” contact on lucrative fly in/fly out paid speeches. Regardless of their role, they return to Washington, take a seat at a dinner party and say, “Wow, the people sound agitated. Could you please pass the rolls?”
The carved gateway to the memorial. While the landscaping may need some time and TLC, the King memorial is on the Tidal Basin, where the Cherry Blossoms bloom gloriously in the spring.
My point? If you think the worst of Washington, it’s probably legit. And with the city’s power triumvirate essentially out of touch there’s a cynicism that, again, makes the “Occupy wherever” forces both logical and timely.

There are renegades, naturally, but they are a minority. Rick Perry aspires to being a renegade, but hasn’t found traction. We elected Barack Obama because we thought he was a smart renegade and that he wouldn’t kowtow to the established doctrine of wars and Wall Street.

Now, sitting where the buck stops, he has to walk a line between the way we think things are and the way they really are. It’s a moveable line. Still, the people I know who love him, who believe he could knock Mitt Romney over with a feather, want to see some evidence of tough guy from the smart guy. And it’s not about his campaign so much as his stance on policies; guns and butter.
Too young to know what it all means - yet.
Memo to President Obama.
Decades ago John Kerry was a renegade. Not John Kerry the presidential candidate, but John Kerry the Vietnam War protester. The “Occupy” movement should look to him for example, because every group needs a leader.

Kerry and I first met 1971 on the frontlines of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War movement, which made him an antiwar star. I was a young wire service reporter. He was a young, skinny Massachusetts vet in green fatigues, with purpose and ego already in forward motion. It was impossible to ignore him. He was a natural born leader. He made noise, good noise, and that noise made change. He took it right up to the steps of the Capitol. He was absolutely unrelenting, and charged until he got a chance to speak before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Now, many years a Senator, and a member of that same committee, perhaps he’ll reach out to the new movement, recognizing their roots in what he was once about, and bring along his Senate colleagues. Let the listening begin!
One of the many, many water features at the FDR memorial.
Here are a few parties that happened over the past many days, because regardless of protest movements and national frustration, Washington party’s on. James Brantley covered the annual Pen/Faulkner dinner, and sent in photos.

The theme was “The Writing on the Wall.” Two student writers were honored, Maxine Davis, from the Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, and Laneisha McCauley, from Cardozo Senior High School. There were also readings by Amy Dickinson (The Chicago Tribune journalist behind the “Ask Amy” advice column), David Ignatius (Washington Post) who subbed for good friend David Remnick (editor of The New Yorker), Karen Russell (author of Swaplandia!), Andrew Sullivan (blogger and political commentator), Ken Ludwig (award-winning playwright), Roxana Robinson (Cost and Sweetwater), memoirists James McBride (The Color of Water) and Kyoko Mori (Yarn: Remembering the Way Home), Al Young (2005 Poet Laureate of California), Natasha Trethewey (author of the poetry collection Native Guard), and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (Farewell to Manzanar). The host was Roy Blount, Jr.
Susan Bradford, Kyoko Mori, and Karen Russell.
Christopher Addison and Sylvia Ripley.
Sen. Thad Cochran and Kay Webber. Katherine and David Bradley.
Philip Pillsbury, Nina Pillsbury, Michael Pillsbury, and Susan Pillsbury.
Francesca Craig and Nora Pouillon.
Scott and Courtney Pastrick.
Ann Brown, Mary Haft, Willee Lewis, and Molly Raiser.
Ludmilla and Conrad Cafritz.
David Ignatius, Ken Ludwig, James McBride, and Andre Sullivan.
The Pen-Faulkner class of 2011: Natasha Trethewey, Karen Russell, Roxana Robinson, Jeanne Wakatsuki, Kyoko Mori, David Ignatius, James McBride, Ken Ludwig, Al Young, Andrew Sullivan, Laneisha McCauley, Maxine Davis, Amy Dickinson, and Roy Blount, Jr.
Kathleen and Chris Matthews.
Katherine and David Bradley hosted their annual dinner on the eve of the Washington Ideas Forum, which is sponsored principally by his Atlantic Media Company in partnership with The Aspen Institute. Politicians, media celebrities and corporate powers gathered at the Bradley’s handsome Embassy Row home for a delicious dinner and entertainment of the cerebral variety – a conversation between journalist Margaret Carlson and former White House speechwriter Jon Lovett.

Before their discourse, a reel of clips was shown of late night and other comedians mocking the Washington establishment in general and the media in particular. Everyone in the room laughed, as if the jokes weren’t really about them.
The view from the Bradley's front door, through the main hall, living room, terrace and to the tented dinner beyond.
Lovett was fascinating, however, as he deconstructed the process of interjecting humor into the speeches made by President Obama, at least speeches where humor is expected, such as the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

This year there was drama unfolding behind the scenes, the mission that culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden. Lovett had to compete for Presidential face time with CIA, Defense and other security staff. Not knowing what was going on inside, Lovett said he stood outside the closed door of the Oval Office, eager to see Obama, thinking, “Doesn’t he know we have to see him about jokes?”
David Bradley.
Jon Lovett tells some of his White House stories.
Print and TV perk: Margaret Carlson and Katie Couric.
How do they compile the jokes? “We solicit jokes from everybody,” which for this year’s WHCA dinner speech included submissions from Joel Apatow and writers from Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. The process is time-consuming, he said, “because we have to find the 15-20 jokes that are funny. We go through a lot of Diet Coke.”

Of Obama’s way with humor, Lovett said, “he has great timing. He’s handsome and charming and has a great sense of what is going to work.”
The table setting.
An autumn salad from Susan Gage Caterers.
In an amusing clip reel, Steve Colbert mocks the media, many of them sitting in the room.
Guests listen to Lovett (and, well, yes, a few also check out their PDA's).
The dinner, from Susan Gage Caterers, featured a seasonal Mixed Green Salad with peppered goat cheese, spiced pumpkin seeds, toasted pecans & tarragon sherry vinaigrette; Corvina with orange gremolata, orange beurre blanc, toasted faro pilaf, kale, crimini mushrooms, toasted cumin & caramelized onions, roasted heirloom beets; and for dessert, Double Chocolate Tart with black pepper ice cream.

Guests at the dinner included: Zoe Baird Budinger, John Fox Sullivan, James Bennet, Donald Baer, Adrienne Arsht, Ben Bradlee, John and Lois Breaux, Nancy Brinker, Sen. John Barrasso, Ron Brownstein, James Duff, Linda Dougass, Anita Dunn, Dan Glickman, Alan Greenspan and Andrea Mitchell, J. Thomas Bowler and Ellen Bowler, Amb. Francois Delattre of France, Matt Echols, Walter Isaacson, Shelby Coffey, Steve Clemons, Steven Rattner, Stephen Adler, Steve Case, Rep. Steve Cohen, Judy Woodruff, Brian Moran, Michael Kinsley, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Corby Kummer, Judy Marks, Marty Hauser, Elizabeth Keffer, Robert Rose, Rep. Aaron Shock, Susan Sherwin, Robin Sproul, Gordon Segal, Rebecca Arbogast, Norah O’Donnell, Shelly Porges, William Wolfe, Daniel Yoo, Scott McCleskey and Jennifer Meyer.
David Bradley greets Vice President Biden.
David Cohen, Senator Michael Bennet, and James Bennet.
James Fallows and Rep. Keith Ellison.
Lay Lauf, publisher of The Atlantic.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal with Katherine and David Bradley.
Steve Case and David Bradley.
Andrea Mitchell, Debbie Dingell, and Susan Blumenthal.
Elizabeth Keffer.
Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell, and Sherman and Alana Glass.
Also last week, Real Clear Politics launched the 2012 campaign with a cocktail party at Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar on Capitol Hill. They poured wine, booze and beer and offered two buffets – dinner items but also a candy bar and a cupcake buffet with logo desserts from Georgetown Cupcake. If you don’t know Real Clear Politics, you should, especially if you are even remotely a political junkie. The site aggregates a vast sampling of editorial coverage of politics, plus national and state polls, op-eds, and breaking news, and original reporting, and in one simple website. It’s among my favorites, a site I visit two or three times daily during the election season, which as we all know, is on us like a speeding train.

Mixed in with members of Congress were a swarm of political reporters, including Howard Fineman, Jonathan Karl, Sue Davis, Dana Bash, Abby Livingston, John Dickerson, Katie Connolly, Charlie Mahtesian, JP Freire, Lynn Sweet, Alex Isenstadt, representing Huffington Post, CNN, ABC News, Politico, and other outlets. The evening’s hosts, RCP co-founder Tom Bevan, and Washington editor Carl Cannon, made brief welcoming remarks. Also from RCP: Erin McPike, Alexis Simendinger, Scott Conroy, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Sean Trende.
Kristen Welker, Michael LaRosa, and Erin McPike.
Mark Lee and Steve Szabo.
Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon.
Dana Bash, Peter Nonis, and Jon Karl.
Howard Fineman, Amy Nathan, John Dickerson, and Mary Hager.
Mark Salter and Tom Bevan.
Howard Fineman, on the left.
Politically minded dessert from Georgetown Cupcake. Patriotic candies.
Photographs by Carol Joynt, Jim Brantley (Pen/Faulkner), Max Taylor (Atlantic), Kristoffer Tripplaar (RCP).

Carol Joynt's memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.