Note to TWN Readers: I’m not a funny guy, and I tell jokes badly. I’m not very good at sassy, bitchy, ironic, snarly prose (or blogging) — but I’m going to try and recount some very humorous anecdotes from a DC heavyweight dinner the night before last — from which I think I am still recovering.
Perhaps because Peter Beinart really liked what I wrote about him signing the PNAC letter the other day, I found myself invited to join the New Republic table at the Washington Press Club Foundation‘s 61st Annual Congressional Dinner.
Ryan Lizza and his wife were there in addition to Peter as well as the TNR President & Publisher Stephanie Sandberg and Associate Publisher Richard Parker. We had an extra seat — and next thing I knew Fran Drescher (yes, “the Nanny”) stopped by to hang out at the seat and grab it for one of the lobbyists for the Creative Coalition. She warmed up the seat for this very nice guy, Hughie, and then moved to a neighboring table — and made the whole affair, which I thought was going to be stuffy (I was wrong), immediately intriguing.
Peter Beinart — who is off to Brookings to work away on a book for which he is rumored to have received an advance in the six digits (and really close to seven digits) — and I did get a chance to talk some politics and discuss his thesis that Democrats in all sectors have to redefine their goals in the war against global jihadism. I don’t agree with Peter’s general line — but I think that the debate is extremely important and think he has shown guts for getting something bold out there for discussion. But Fran Drescher was there — and somehow discussing with her redrawing the lines of feminism, gay rights, and the battle against censorship within the terms proposed by Peter Beinart didn’t seem that much fun. So, we talked Hollywood, said that broadcasters needed some backbone, expressed disdain that Tom DeLay was sitting (then, quietly) at the dais, and gave her lobbyist pal the extra chair.
That kind deed got us all invited to a very cool, upper crust dance bar that had been put together and hosted by Congressional Quarterly at the very top of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in the Reagan Building. Harry Hamlin was there — but he didn’t seem to appreciate my thanking him for his brave kiss in the 1982 film, Making Love. Harry never really looked happy that night — but he did hang around until very late.
Joe Pantoliano was having fun, said hi look he knew me and then said hi to some others leaving me real fast. But Fran Drescher was the best. We road in the same elevator — danced briefly (she danced — and I looked stupid). I then later learned that she danced with Travolta in Saturday Night Live and didn’t feel so badly.
But then it was back to political stuff and watching Harry Hamlin scowl most of the evening. Margaret Carlson, Carl Hulse, Matt Cooper, well….everybody was having fun, and drinking. Margaret Carlson was loading up on lots of mineral water and juice. Beinart is a dedicated vegetarian. It seemed like all the Hollywood or Senator wannabes were the ones imbibing alcohol — and all of the serious talent were savoring their Perrier.
But the unbelievable part of the evening was that TOM DELAY WAS HILARIOUS. I am not inclined towards Tom DeLay (search this blog and you’ll get a sense of how much of an understatement that is) and was ticked off when I learned that he was with Richard Durbin one of the featured speakers of the night.
There has got to be some other good commentary on the night — and I’ll link some of it here — but I immediately began scrambling for a pen and scribbled in every open space on my program when I heard how good DeLay was.
Among the things he did was look at the similarities between Sponge Bob Square Pants and Jesse Helms. He said that when he reviewed the leading Republican contenders for the White House — Arnold, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain — he said that he wasn’t satisfied that he had found among his own ranks anyone sufficiently pro-life, pro-religion, and for the war against terror. And then he revealed that the one person who fit the bill and whom he would support for President was Hillary Clinton who had really surprised everyone with her stands on abortion, religion in the public space, and her hardline on terrorists.
DeLay thanked the press for making him such a star. The nickname “The Hammer,” he said had made people begin to see him in a way other than his warm, docile, cuddly self and that 1500 media references to “The Hammer” in the press had gotten him the position of Republican House Whip. 3,000 references to “The Hammer” in the press got him to the position of Leader — and he projected on a graphy that if he could get 5,000 references, he’d be Speaker; 7,000 then Senate Republican Leader; 8,000 Senate Democratic Leader too — and then to the White House. But he admonished the media that even he could admit that the last thing they would want is Tom DeLay “in the White House…”
He noted that when his name is “googled” with the words “strong-arming” 332 references come up; “ruthless” nearly the same; “the hammer” a huge number of google references; “rat” even higher. But the highest google count came when googling “Tom DeLay” and “fear” together. He then showed his mug shot next to a rat and said that he could discern a few differences but understood the confusion. It was hilarious self-deprecation.
He noted that James Dobson was already preparing to picket the White House for that slobbery kiss that Bush planted on Joe Lieberman at the State of the Union address. He said that Frist had nothing on him. Frist might be a surgeon but offered that he (DeLay) was the “only living heart donor.” He thanked the media for giving him the kind of reputation that made him so effective with freshmen Congressmen. He said “Honestly, I can’t tell you how much easier it is to squeeze votes out of these freshmen (Congressmen) or money out of big donors when they think if they say ‘no,’ I’m going to put a horse head in their bed or something.”
He said that he believed that these kind of dinners were technically torture — but Al Gonzales had assured him they weren’t.
DeLay showed a campaign billboard that said in bold letters: HILLARY AND THE HAMMER IN 2008.
He then mentioned that the one guy in Congress whom he thought was the future of the country, never run a federal seat before, went right into the Senate and into the limelight was that other Senator from Illinois, Barak Obama. He then introduced Illinois’ Senior Senator Richard Durbin.
Durbin got in some good laughs too. His best was his first.
He told DeLay, “Even if you weren’t funny, you’d change the rules to say you were.”
He said DeLay was one of the few forces that could unite the Democratic Party. He said that the Dems were getting tougher and noted that despite Rahm Emanuel having been a ballet dancer, he said “Don’t let that fool you. He wears ballet shoes with steel toes.” “Don’t even ask about the Nutcracker.”
Durbin then confided in us that at the Democratic National Convention, he had seen Obama — nervous as hell about having been selected out of obscurity by John Kerry to give one of the most important speeches at the Convention, the world on his soldiers. Durbin said that Obama’s wife had pleaded several times for him to go assure Obama that things would work out.
So he went into a holding room to talk with Obama who kept going over his speech, sweating profusely, and just sure that his speech was not going to cut it. So, in closing, Durbin told us that he said to Obama, “here kid, take my speech.”
The place was roaring. DeLay, whom I really detest and who I hold accountable for the breakdown of the system of checks and balances in our country, was nonetheless….really, really funny. We should still fire him, sue him, sanction him. But invite him to dinners when he is no longer in Congress.
More later — but I wanted to share some of the highlights of a very fun evening. Thanks to the New Republic, Stephanie Sanders, Peter Beinart, Richard Parker, Ryan Lizza — for letting me hang out with them.
Fran — give me a call.
— Steve Clemons