In the Arena

A Week of Parties

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This is, I know, a sore subject–the Washington party circuit. It’s a guilty pleasure I don’t indulge too often–I live in New York, and travel overseas and around the U.S. too frequently to be a regular on the cocktail weenie circuit. And yes, yes, tsk, tsk, I know that private partying with government officials can lead to slavish mutual back-massaging. But it can be a pleasure, guilty or not, at times. Gawking and talking with celebrities is fun. And sometimes actual business can be transacted, as in the photo above, which I”ll explain below.

In any case, there is one week a year–the first week in May–when I jump onto the cocktail weenie circuit with both feet. This past week I attended three such events: the Atlantic Council’s annual awards dinner, the White House Correspondents Dinner and the Time 100 Gala (which was in New York). Each had its moments.

The photo above was taken after the Atlantic Council event, which honored Bill Clinton and Bono, among others. One of Bono’s “people” told me that the honoree wanted to meet me back stage–and we were having a good chat about third-world development programs when Admiral Mike Mullen walked by. I grabbed him and told Bono, “If you want to talk about agriculture, this is the guy you want to meet.”  The three of us proceeded to have an intense few minutes gabbing–well, they were gabbing; I was mostly listening–about the relative prices of pomegranates, wheat and poppies in Afghanistan. Given the persistence and excellence of Bono’s work in the developing world, this was a valuable connection for him. “It’s amazing how much the military is into this now,” he said. “It’s great.”

A less enlightening meeting came at the Time 100, where Glenn Beck and I shook hands coolly. We talked about Miranda rights for alleged terrorists; we disagreed–I told him that I’d spoken with legal experts who believed there could be a limited exception in terrorism cases; he accused me of “shredding the Constitution.” He scolded me for claiming that he was a birther. I said to him, “Well, when you say that there’s ‘nothing American’ about Barack Obama, what does that mean?” He stalked away. On the other hand, Sarah Palin slapped me across the face twice–playfully–and we had a nice chat about our oldest sons, both of whom had returned recently from service in Iraq (hers is a soldier, mine a diplomat). Does this mean that I’ll be any more charitable toward her distasteful and ill-informed politics? Nope. But it is valuable to know that she has a sense of humor and civility…and that Glenn Beck doesn’t.

Finally, I’ve got to say that most musical performances at these events are dull, dry and mainstream…but Prince’s super-tight funk at the Time 100 gala was truly memorable and will send me and my funk-addicted spouse hurtling toward his next show when he comes back to town.