Pundits and Pols without the Wasabi
The Saturday night before every political convention there is usually a party for the thousands of journalists who will be covering the shebang to come. The familiar faces of TV news mix with the worker-bees – producers, bookers, engineers, camera people, makeup artists, interns – and together they guzzle tons of free food and an ocean of booze. A good time was had by all – right, left, and unaffiliated – and the event afforded me a fine start to one of my missions in New York this week: Hang out with conservatives and have a good time.
The Boston media bash for the Democratic convention featured an indoors carousel and Little Richard banging on the piano. The fete in New York City featured.... shopping. It was held inside the Time Warner Center in Columbus circle, which is essentially a mall: J. Crew, Hugo Boss, Williams-Sonoma, Borders, Bose, the Art of Shaving, and so much more. On the sidewalk, where the smokers gathered and moaned about Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I spotted the National Review 's Kate O'Beirne. As we started chatting, New York Times reporter David Carr asked us to compare this extravaganza – Bloomberg flipping potato pancakes! clowns on stilts in neon suits! Don King citing Reconstructionist theology in praising George W. Bush – to the Boston party. I replied, "Leave it to the Republicans to turn a party into a shopping spree." On the way in to the Time Warner Center, every one of the thousands of revelers was handed a book of discount coupons they could use in the stores when they weren't gorging upon sushi, sashimi, pizza or the mayor's pancakes. Right away, O'Beirne replied that this was part of George W. Bush's economic plan. "See people are using theirtax cuts. Aren't you happy about that, David?" It was just like being on Capital Gang. Yes, I answered, I'm glad I received my tax cut, even though local taxes have had to go up and the costs of Bush's tax cuts will be forced upon future middle-class taxpayers who will be saddled with a deficit exacerbated by Bush's givebacks to the wealthy. "Whoa," said a bystander. "These guys can make even a party political."
At this point, a champagne glass tipped over and shattered. Carr departed and disappeared into the party. "Guess we didn't give good quotes," O'Beirne remarked. Then she spotted a pal and said, "Barbara, come over here. David was just making a cheap joke about your old boss." O'Beirne was referring to my comment about the large statues in the lobby of the Time Warner Center: a very round man and a very round woman, naked and anatomically correct. (At least the woman was; I did not check out her partner.) Pointing to the statues, I had said, "I wonder what John Ashcroft would say." The newcomer to our conversation was Barbara Comstock, who had been the spokesperson for the attorney general. (She now is working for Blank Rome Government Relations, a lobbying and communications firm.)
"There are lots of cheap jokes one could make about Ashcroft," I said. "I suppose I could just show the video of him singing his song, 'Where Eagles Soar,' but Michael Moore beat me to the punch on that one."
"You know," Comstock replied, in a matronly tone. "I used to be a liberal. I came to Washington from Massachusetts to be an intern for Teddy Kennedy." What went wrong? I asked. "I had children. That makes you into a Republican."
"Really?" I replied. "Last election, a majority of Americans voted for either Al Gore or Ralph Nader instead of George Bush. More than 50 million, I believe. I bet that some of them had kids."
"Do you have kids?" she asked. Two, I said and whipped out my cell phone, which has a lovely photo of my five-year-old girl on the opening screen. I passed it around. "Five years old," I told the assembled, "and my younger daughter is three-and-a-half years old."
"Oh, just wait until she's thirteen," Comstock responded. "Then you'll be a Republican."
"Why?" I asked. "Let's say she makes a stupid mistake when she's thirteen. Will I want her not to be able to choose to have an abortion? Will I want her to have to pay off the $4.6 trillion in debt that Bush is bequeathing her? Will I want her to be the citizen of our country despised around the world? Will I want her to fear the approaching consequences of global warming?"
"Oh," she replied, "you are a lost cause." But, she added, she liked anyone with small, cute kids. So I passed that test.
Thank you, I replied and said good-bye. I headed toward the front doors of the Time Warner Center. But I encountered conservative pundit John Fund of The Wall Street Journal. In a convivial mood, he told me he has a book coming out next week. About what? I asked. "About how we have the shoddiest, worst voting systems in the entire industrialized world," he said.
"You mean," I replied, "America is not Number One? We're not the best? Other countries do something better than we do? We really are not Number One when it comes to democracy?" Fund smiled to humor me and said, "Are you trying out material for The Hotline comedy show?" (In Boston, I performed briefly – thankfully – at a standup comedy show organized by The Hotline, a political tipsheet. I was panned by The Wall Street Journal. Other reviews were more encouraging.) What's the name of the book? I asked Fund. "Stealing Elections," he said.
"You've come over to our side?" I exclaimed. "It's about 2000? John, how great, you're expanding the horizons of the Journal." I knew damn well that his concern was not what happened in Florida. For years, he has written about voting problems from the perspective of a conservative worried that folks who favor Democrats are gaining far-too-easy or illegitimate access to the voting booth. I was pulling his chain, and Fund politely went along with the joke. He even said he would invite me to the book party next month.
By now the hour was getting late, Fund excused himself and headed toward the subway. I tried to get back into the party. I had yet to sample the sushi, which had drawn fave reviews. But – damn – the doors were blocked by the nattily dressed private security guards. Closing time. The party was ending. I headed back to my hotel – the wildly fashionable Hudson (more on this later, perhaps). And I resolved: At the next party, make sure to eat before jousting with the conservatives.