Friday, February 15, 2013

Washington Social Diary

Hillary Clinton on a mission as Secretary of State (Diana Walker for TIME).
by Carol Joynt

What’s been on peoples minds here, other than inauguration recovery, State of the Union, and President Obama’s dwindling second honeymoon with the Hill? It’s that Hillary Clinton has left the stage--at least the stage of an official Washington role. Imagine if Meryl Streep quit the movies, or Oprah stopped doing interviews, or Martha Stewart said “no” to any future entertaining?

Clinton’s resignation as Secretary of State, and departure from Washington, is that and so much more. We’ve lost a superstar who made life here extra interesting, and don’t doubt for a second that the void isn’t felt. To paraphrase the late Lloyd Bentsen, debating Dan Quayle when Quayle likened himself to John F. Kennedy: Washington knows John Kerry and Washington knows that John Kerry, while an expert on foreign affairs, is no Hillary Clinton. Even Kerry asked, “Can a man actually run the State Department?” Let’s hope so. It’s been done before.

Clinton’s removing herself from the 24/7 news cycle takes nothing away from Washington’s only other super stars, the President and First Lady. They still have first dibs on the spotlight, when they want it, but Clinton achieved something remarkable over the last four years, Benghazi notwithstanding: good grades on her performance as Secretary of State, admiration from both sides for her tirelessness and her achievements, and a deepening popularity among the American people. She may have relinguished her own political spotlight for now, but the spotlight will want her back. The spotlight craves her, thrives on her.

And as for Benghazi, her farewell appearance on Capitol Hill, while it didn’t satisfy her harshest critics, did teach some of the blowhards a thing or two about blowing back. Video of her Senate grilling should be in every media trainer’s playbook of how to testify before Congress when you know yourself, your job and what you feel are the relevant facts. Remember the film “Network” and Peter Finch’s profound wail. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore"? He won an Oscar for that. Clinton opted not to take it anymore, too, when Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson wouldn't let up. “What difference, at this point, does it make?” she asked, and with that Hillary Clinton left the building.
What difference does it make? (Jason Reed Reuters).
Talk to people who know her and they won’t reveal much beyond the next few months. “She wants to sleep,” they say. “She wants to enjoy the pleasures of home.” They'll also tell you that she wants to stay in the background to give Kerry a chance to find his footing.

Here's an interesting anecdote: the other day Bill and Hillary Clinton were spotted, hand in hand, walking a golden retriever puppy on Massachusetts Avenue near their Embassy Row home. It was midday. Who should pass by but President Obama and his motorcade, returning with the family from a morning basketball game of one of his daughters. Reporters traveling with the current president noticed the other president, but no indication of whether any waves or smiles were exchanged. Nonetheless, don't tell me this is not a small town.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a holiday party for military children in 2009.
Clinton will divide her time between Washington and the Clinton residence in Chappaqua, New York, and likely be visible in Manhattan to be with daughter Chelsea, and friends, and fans. She and the former president are looking for a place in the Hamptons, too. Why not? Views of beach and ocean help work the mind. But every public appearance will be as scrutinized as a fresh satellite photo at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. 

Another thing friends will tell you is that she can’t wait to get back into contact lenses and out of the eyeglasses her doctor required her to wear after she suffered a concussion. “She hates the glasses,” one friend said. 

A former campaign aide accurately told the New York Daily News “the world is her oyster.” It is, and while presidential elections of the modern era are a permanent campaign she in particular does not need to rush. It may just be a post-inauguration blush, but it feels like the entire 2016 presidential campaign will sit on its brakes until Hillary Clinton makes a decision. The money will. You can be sure that her soldiers are doing what loyal political soldiers do: marking time, cooling their jets, honing their game, waiting for the call.

Top to bottom: Melanne Verveer; Philippe Reines; Capricia Marshall.
I’d say keep an eye on Melanne Verveer. She was with Clinton at State, as head of the office of Global Women’s issues, and was her chief of staff at the White House, and just relocated to Georgetown University as head of its Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

If Clinton starts to mobilize, she could be called upon. Another name to enter in a google alert is Philippe Reines, Clinton’s deputy assistant Secretary of State and her spokesman.

Also, maybe, Capricia Marshall, the Clintons White House Social Secretary who President Obama named as Chief of Protocol, which put her at the State Department with her good friend Clinton.

She has agreed to stay in the job for Secretary Kerry. But for how long? One friend said Marshall may  want less stress and more time at home with her family. (But everyone in DC with power wants more time with family --  when the timing is right, eventually, in theory.)

Mark the date of April 2. Clinton may make an appearance at the Kennedy Center for the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards. She established the organization back in 1997, when she was First Lady, to spotlight, assist and honor emerging women leaders from all over the world. She showed for the occasion as Secretary of State, when her schedule allowed, but this could be her first major post-government DC appearance. 

A friend said she does plan to attend and possibly make remarks. The event will be a lovefest and she'll be a rockstar. The honorees, the board, the audience are her fan club.

It has to be a good feeling for Clinton after this fascinating stretch of public life that dates back to the early 80s. All the cards are hers. Presumbably only three people know what she might do -- the other two being Chelsea and the former president, with a possible ripple effect into the first tier of friends and advisers. Nothing political will happen incidentally or accidentally.

She left the job with accolades from Obama, her former opponent with whom she now shares an apparent mutual appreciation society. It was interesting and seductive to watch them work together. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at their private meetings.

But the speculation is that Obama would not endorse anyone in the early stages of the 2016 presidential race, which may hearten Vice President Joe Biden. If Obama were to endorse Clinton would it be game over?

All the State Department achievement and presidential speculation aside, to me Hillary Clinton has something else that is worth mentioning: the coolest photo ever taken of a government official, and that includes the entire recorded imagery of Camelot.  

No, not the one with her hand to her mouth in the Situation Room as the Navy SEALs carried out the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, though that was intense. This is a photo of her on Air Force 3, a jumbo military cargo plane, during a 2011 trip to the Mideast. She’s sitting alone, with staff in the background, checking her Blackberry, wearing sunglasses, an attractive necklace and brooch, blond hair falling to her shoulders. She achieves the unachieveable -- looking appropriate wearing sunglasses inside. She’s cool and she’s just plain badass. The complete package would be Jason Statham as her running mate.

Who says Washington doesn’t get its sexy on? Well, in truth, it mostly doesn’t, but there is one night of the year when the establishment ramps up the temperature to about as hot as is possible in the capital of buzz kill budgets and drone mania.

That hotness happens when the the annual Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opening night gala comes to town. It was last week and there’s still steam rising from the Kennedy Center. The Ailey show itself, in the Opera House, wowed the audience with fresh interpretations from the troupe’s new artistic director, Robert Battle.
Renee Robinson performing in Revelations (James R. Brantley).
Minus 16 with audience participation (James R. Brantley).
Petite Mort (James R. Brantley).
The show was followed by a black tie dinner on the rooftop terrace but the guests didn’t stay seated at their pretty tables for long. For two hours, until almost midnight, they danced to R&B and Top 40 hits from “Free Spirit.” Even the French Ambassador’s wife, Sophie L’Helias Delattre, on a Girls Night Out as guest of Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth, was seen tearing up the dance floor, albeit demurely, with her dinner partners.
AA Wardrobe Dept. Dante Baylor, AA dancer Megan Jakel, Tiffany Cross, and Daren Thomas (James A. Brantley).
The guest list of 750 included co-chairs Gina Adams, Lyndon Boozer, Christopher Cowan and Debra Lee; Ailey dancers Guillermo Asca, Hope Boykin, Sean Carmon, Sarah Daley, Ghrai DeVore, Antonio Douthit, Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, Renaldo Gardner, Vernard Gilmore, Jacqueline Green, Daniel Harder, Demetia Hopkins, Megan Jakel, Yannick Lebrun, Alicia Graf Mack, Michael McBride, Rachel McLaren, Aisha Mitchell, Akua Parker, Belen Pereyra, Jamar Roberts, Samuel Roberts, Renee Robinson, Kelly Rebotham, Kanji Segawa and Marcus Willis; choreographer Robert Battle, Joshua Dubois, Michelle Mitchell, Ann Jordan, Heather Podesta, Calvin Hunt, Sandy and Joan Weill, Guido Goldman, David Monn, Tony Lewis and Joy Nasser, Amy Fitterer, Reginald Van Lee, Peter and Marian Edelman, Dave Grimaldi, Bob and Diane Brace, Ann Walker Marchant, Eugene Profit, Vanessa Reed, Jonathan Rodgers, Victoria Suarez-Palomo, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairman of the Democratic National Committee; Steven Olson, Jacqueline Flowers, DeDe and Dallas Lea.
Renee Robinson with her grandmother, Audreen Aqueel, her mother, Tahira Washington, and Robert Battle (James R. Brantley).
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mike Conway, and AA Dancer Rachael McLaren (James R. Brantley).
Mrs. Sandy Weill, Chair, AA Board, Toni Cook Bush, and Ann Jordan (James R. Brantley).
Eugene Adams, Gina Adams, AA Gala Co-Chair, and AA Artistic Director Robert Battle (James R. Brantley).
Debra Lee and Robert Battle (Photo credit Kyle Samperton). Valerie Jarrett and Kelly Dibble (Kyle Samperton).
Rep. Ted Deutch and Robert Lynch (James R. Brantley).
Rep. Elijah Cummings and Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings (Kyle Samperton). EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Broderick Johnson (Kyle Samperton).
AA Dancer Akua Noni Parker on the dance floor with Gala attendees (Kyle Samperton).
AA dancer Megan Jakel and Dante Baylor (James R. Brantley).

There was a party last week in honor of some of the most powerful people in Washington, the embassy social secretaries. It was held at the Meridian International Center and was co-hosted by White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard and Capricia Marshall, the former Clinton White House social secretary and current Chief of Protocol.

Marshall noted she was the youngest ever White House social secretary and Bernard added that he’s the first male and the first openly gay person in the job. Both said they would be remaining in their positions for the second term of the Obama Administration.
The party for the social secretaries had buffets with grilled shrimp, poached salmon, rare roast beef, grilled vegetables and cheese torte.
Why do you want to know an embassy social secretary? Because even though an ambassador and/or his wife play with the guest lists for luncheons, receptions and dinners, a seasoned and savvy social secretary can always maneuver special favorites onto the guest list. He or she also has quite a lot of say over seating, after the demands of protocol, as well as the menu, the flowers, and the entertainment. Consider Amanda Downes, social secretary at the British Embassy.

She’s been there for more than 21 years, has served numerous Ambassadors and even lives at the residence. She personifies “Keep Calm and Carry On.” If there were a book to be written, she could write it, but that will never happen. The code of the profession begins with etiquette but discretion is primal, too. That said, when they talk amongst each other, it’s the best gossip in Washington. Whether it’s the White House, the State Department or the Embassy of Wherever, nothing gets by them.
White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard. Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall.
Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall with White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard.
The team that makes up the White House social office, with Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard in the middle.
Most of the staff of the White House social office: Steven Avila, Samantha Tubman, Lauren Kelly, Clay Wertheimer, Natalie Bookey-Baker, and Ximena Gonzalez.
April Guice of the State Department, Amanda Downes of the British Embassy and Francesca Craig of the French Embassy.
Jeremy Bernard, about to accept a fist bump from former ambassador to Canada Jim Blanchard, board chair of the Meridian International Center. Blanchard's wife, Janet, and Capricia Marshall, are in the background.
Jeremy Bernard greets Mònica Gross, social secretary for the Embassy of Ecuador.
The social secretaries for the embassies of Italy and Germany, Donatella Verrone and Sandra Pandit.
Norma Ces, social secretary for Ireland, and Carol Halili-Castaneda from the Embassy of the Philippines.
The Embassy of Georgia's social secretary, Nanuka Danelia, and Rama Touré of the Embassy of Monaco.
Among the guests at the party for social secretaries were some ambassadors, including Austrian Ambassador Peter Manz, here with Elizabeth Herndler of the Embassy of Luxembourg.

If email hacking has a silver lining it’s that it gave us the paintings of President George W. Bush. We learned he has an inner Van Gogh, that in retirement he is exploring his ouevre as an artist. In a week of blather about budgets and drones it was a welcomed distraction. Does it mean we know "W" any better? No. But it’s something. In at least two images of his canvases, the hacked emails of the Bush family show he uses himself and his bathroom as subjects.

There’s his bare back (from the waist up) in the shower and his bare legs (from knees to toes) in the bathtube. The hacker uses the name Guccifer. No surprise, the feds are investigating, though apparently they’ve been after Guccifer since before this incident.
George W. Bush paintings from hacked emails.
Yes, it’s an invasion of privacy, but the paintings are beguiling. What are they telling us?  Does he prefer showers or a soak in the tub? Is the deeper meaning a search for cleansing? Will they end up on exhibition at the National Gallery of Art (doubtful) or possibly the Corcoran Gallery (maybe) or will they remain unseen except in these stolen images? I’m eager for analysis, a full hour of Charlie Rose, where the nation’s top critics deconstruct the artistry and then another whole hour with Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew -- and, what the hell, throw in Dr. Oz --  analyzing the message. We can only hope. It’s certainly more entertaining than sequestration.
Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt