The End of Power… or the End of Her Party?

It has taken me almost two weeks to get my breath back, so shocked was I.

On June 7, as most who follow the Washington pundocracy know, Sally Quinn (wife of former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee) declared that power (in Washington, at least) is over. Done. Kaput. Money has replaced it:

Now, at a party, if you find people staring over your shoulder to see who’s more important in the room, they’re usually looking at someone rich, rather than someone powerful.

Maybe Quinn can be excused. She grew up, after all, within Washington’s chattering class and probably has always assumed the party is the center of the earth. In fact, I think she mistakes “party” for “power.” Anyhow, she was hired to write about that class by the man who would later become her husband….

What she does not seem to have realized, as she penned this piece, is that she isn’t lamenting the end of power in general, but the end of her own party, though she did once write an article about the ‘traditional’ Washington hostess’s demise called “The Party’s Over.” She, and the people she has adored since the sixties, are being muscled aside once more but by a different group… and each new group seems raw, uncouth, and interested only in money to those they replace.

Quinn makes me remember Irving Berlin’s song “The Hostest with the Mostest on the Ball” as an indication that things, no matter what Quinn may think (and has thought, for twenty-five years, at least), haven’t changed:

I’ve a great big bar and good caviar
Yes, the best that can be found
And a large amount in my bank account
When election time comes round
If you’re feeling presidential
You can make it, yes indeed
There are just three things essential
Let me tell you, all you need
Is an ounce of wisdom and a pound of gall
And the hostess with the mostest on the ball.

That’s from 1950, sung by Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam. It’s about Perle Mesta–remember her? Thought not. She came to Washington on the back of Oklahoma oil money. She’s not that different from the yahoos (as Quinn probably sees them) who are arriving in Washington today. She’s not that different from Quinn herself–even though Quinn grew up in the DC environment and, therefore, did not have to learn its ways as an adult.

At the start of her article, Quinn writes:

In April, at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, my husband, Ben Bradlee, and I found ourselves sandwiched between the Kardashians and Newt and Callista Gingrich. Heavily made up and smiling for the cameras, the reality TV family and the political couple were swarmed over by the paparazzi.

There seems to be a certain jealousy here, or nostalgia. Not to worry, Ms. Quinn. You are not alone. In a few years, a Kardashian will write a similar lament about the next generation of Washington darlings.

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