Political Animal


June 14, 2012 12:29 PM Those Ill-Mannered Visigoths

By Ed Kilgore

I don’t have much to add to the mockery that has greeted Sally Quinn’s latest lament for the decline of the Georgetown Soiree as the epicenter of Washington power. As is often the case (until Charlie Pierce weighs in; alas, Charlie has only done a brief drive-by), the most effective snark is offered by Jon Chait, who takes the anthropological approach:

The bipartisanship cargo cult in Washington is a rather sad tribe of people that laments the decline of bipartisanship, fails to grasp the larger historic forces that made bipartisanship appear and then disappear, and concludes that the problem is the lack of dinner parties. This is, believe it or not, an extremely common belief in our capital city. Seriously. Hardly a week goes by without somebody blaming partisan polarization on the lack of proper dinner parties or, in an occasional twist, lunch.
Quinn’s essay follows the general contours of this genre, but she adds her own uniquely mortifying touches. Her mourning of the decline of the Georgetown dinner party sweeps together such disparate trends as the appearance of a Kardashian at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Citizens United, hard times at newspapers, and the appearance on the scene of “25-year-old bloggers.” The result of all these baffling developments is that Quinn now has to have dinner with actual friends and not just people using each other for access to power.

My own reaction to Quinn’s end-of-an-era ruminations is that her horror at the triumph of pure money—as opposed to money reflected in the politics of defended privilege—in Washington sorta kinda misses the point. It’s as though she were recording the Sack of Rome from the perspective of someone who is mainly exercised by the poor table manners exhibited by the Visigoths.

But the very funniest thing about Quinn’s column is her continuing struggle with the very important question of the First Family’s culpability for this descent into gauchery:

The White House’s power comes from the money people give the president. He wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for his big donors. He had a Hollywood fundraiser last month at George Clooney’s house where he raised $15 million. Those are the people who count. If the president thought that there was real power in Washington, that the Congress, the diplomatic corps or the journalists could help him in any way, then he and the first lady would surely go out more often.
The Obamas have been roundly criticized [mainly by Quinn!] for not being part of the Washington social scene. The question is, does it matter? Could Obama win or lose the presidency because he has dissed the Washington community? I suspect the answer is no. It doesn’t matter anymore.

For Quinn, admitting the Washington social scene “doesn’t matter anymore” is equivalent to a priest’s loss of faith in old age (ironic, insofar is she is the self-appointed editor of WaPo’s On Faith subsite). But it’s good to know she no longer blames Barack Obama, a victim just like the rest of us of the ruins of Washington Society.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • DJ on June 14, 2012 12:36 PM:

    The Obamas have been roundly criticized [mainly by Quinn!] for not being part of the Washington social scene

    And the Obamas should accept the criticism of a home-wrecking whore...why exactly?

  • Rich on June 14, 2012 12:46 PM:

    Mostly she seemed aggrieved by having been seated with the Gingrichs, inadvertently drawing attention to her having a lot of shared biography with Calista. Although, in fairness, Gingrichs kids seem to get along with the 3rd Ms. G unlike Bradlee's kids.

  • stormskies on June 14, 2012 12:56 PM:

    Right the Washington social scene as in David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory dancing on stage with evil embodied Karl Rove ...... this microcosmic scene says it all ... about the nature of the 'washington social scene' .. and the nature of the 'beltway media' ...

  • Hedda Peraz on June 14, 2012 1:02 PM:

    Quinn also laments the loss of bot mots from the Algonquin Round Table, and Eustace Tilley. (New Yorker cover boy, 1925)

  • Snarki, child of Loki on June 14, 2012 1:17 PM:

    Somebody needs to sidle up to Sally Q. and whisper a word in her ear:

    "There are STILL dinner parties of the powerful and well-connected. You're not on the invitation list."

    But then, I'm a big meanie.

  • Anonymous on June 14, 2012 1:17 PM:

    While I dislike the Washington insider scene, I think the Dems have not been as savvy as they should in working it.

    After Reagan was elected but before he took office, he worked the Georgetown dinner scene. It was hard for the media elites to attack him, because they thought he was charming.

    Obama is smart and charming and could have improved his favorability ratings by working the media elites.

  • stinger on June 14, 2012 1:18 PM:

    Dubya and Laura were famous for eating supper on a tray and turning in early. And the Clintons were parvenues from the Ozarks who were beneath Sally's contempt even before the Lewinsky brouhaha. She is, once again, harking back to the Golden Age of Saint Ronnie when she herself was young.

    No news here.

  • c u n d gulag on June 14, 2012 1:25 PM:

    Quinn and Peggy Noonan are two chips off the same block(head)!

    Poor, poor, Sally.

    Too old to be a trophy wife (again).

    And not daffy enough yet to start imagining that she's hosting parties for the political ghosts of yesteryear, where she's the center of attention, and everyone's commenting on Henry Kissinger's latest young date, whispering about Village gossip, and complimenting Sally on the quality of her canape's and wine selection - and wondering, "What's for dinner? And, will the President and First Lady actually arrive on time, or be fashionably late, as protocol demands?" And dreaming of seeing that handsome Secret Service Agent - no, not that one, the taller blond one - and having a quickie in the bathroom, and doing a few lines of Truman Capote's fine Peruvian Flake with him, that the old queen accidentally let fall between the couch cushions the last time he was there, and that Consuela, the maid, dutifully turned over to her mistress.

    Ah, good times... Good times...

  • Ron Byers on June 14, 2012 1:26 PM:

    There is probably more truth in Quinn's little observation than in Friedman's opinion yesterday about Turkey being an island of stability between unstable Europe and the shaky Middle East. Of course, that isn't saying much.

  • boatboy_srq on June 14, 2012 1:33 PM:

    @Anonymous 1:17 pm

    Problem: the Georgetown set was probably too taken aback by Obama daring to be President While Black. That just does NOT happen in DC. Mayor? Naturally. President? Well, I never. Unlike many of us, the "elites" do not see that as a good thing.

    Ingratiate himself with the Beltway elites, maybe - but changing his approval ratings would mean somehow getting past the Reichwing knee-jerk TABMITWH reaction, and that won't happen anytime soon. And it would have done nothing to alter McConnell's little soiree where all of God's Own Party swore that blood oath to impede any and all Obama policies because - well, because.

  • low-tech cyclist on June 14, 2012 1:48 PM:

    The result of all these baffling developments is that Quinn now has to have dinner with actual friends and not just people using each other for access to power.

    Priceless. F'ing priceless.

    If I had a hat, it would be off to Jon Chait.

  • low-tech cyclist on June 14, 2012 1:49 PM:

    Wait - does Quinn have any actual friends? That may be why she's upset.

  • Josef K on June 14, 2012 1:53 PM:

    In fairness, "Time" recently ran a story on how the times-are-a-boomin' inside the Beltway, and consequently how little awareness the DC circuit has of the conditions and mood of the rest of the country. There's a reason its become known as "Versailles on the Potomac".

    If things don't improve, they (and we) may get an unhappy reminder of what happened to the French royal court. By comparison, the Romanovs were the lucky ones.

  • golack on June 14, 2012 2:23 PM:

    Comity died many many moons ago...

    I think there was real value for politicians, senior officials, etc. to send their kids to the same school, bring their baked goods to the school bake sale, rotate bringing snacks to the soccer practice...no matter what your status, you had to wait in line at the parent-teacher conferences, and maybe sit next to someone from the other party. Much harder to demonize people in that environment.

    But most of those interactions died 20 years ago. As far as the diner parties helping out--sorry, but the ones where you had to be seen were always about politics--the polite banter would be about the upcoming bake sale.

  • DAY on June 14, 2012 2:25 PM:

    QuinN has joined an increasingly large group of aging Power Brokers. They have become not old, not poor, not ugly, but the unkindest cut of all: IRRELEVANT.

  • Rabbler on June 14, 2012 2:58 PM:

    Why does this blog now feel the need to make excerpts harder to read?

  • DEL on June 14, 2012 4:40 PM:

    The real problem is that she's apparently looking back to a social scene that was never that great. The Reagans were vulgar, vulgar people, second rate actors in flashy clothes. It's true that the social scene has probably gotten worse (the Green Book is now filled with lobbyists and politicians who never go out in the city but are just listed as a courtesy) but even before the lobbyist takeover the city was pretty dreary. The weekends, before air travel, were full of politicians with uncouth manners married to pretentious, awkward women. It's true that back then it felt a little more like a small town and it was a little easier to access power, but it wasn't more tasteful.

  • JR on June 14, 2012 5:39 PM:

    The complaints about the Obamas' resistance to the DC social circuit never cease to amaze me. What's really so wrong with a President and First Lady who considers time with his two school-age daughters more important than a Quinn-Bradlee soiree?

    Maybe no one else was paying attention but, before moving to the White House, the First Lady said her first priority was ensuring that her daughters' lives retained as much normalcy as possible. (It's not for nothing that the President's mother-in-law is in residence or that the First Daughters famously make their own beds.) The Obamas have also stated that, for the first time in years, they're all under the same roof, pretty much seven days a week.

    Personally, I believe this should be applauded, not scoffed.

  • T-Rex on June 14, 2012 5:58 PM:

    Quinn's not the only one who can't for the life of her understand why a President, or for that matter, any public figure, should keep a professional distance from the people who cover him in the press. Maureen Dowd attended Joe Biden's party for the D.C. news corps, shrugged off criticism that this was inappropriate by saying that "we can't be bought for cold french fries" and then spent the entire rest of the column demonstrating that yes, she obviously could. Suddenly, she'd discovered that Biden was just the nicest, most GENUINE guy! Obama, on the other hand, was a cold fish who didn't socialize with the press on AF1, not realizing of course what Very Very Important people they are. Dowd is an idiot, but at least she's not a superannuated trophy wife like Quinn.

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