I recently did an interview with the Daily Beast‘s Michelle Cottle on the erosion of comity in Washington. One of the interesting places that warring parties in DC still meet (and seemingly leave their guns and holsters with the concierge) is at Nixon Center annual dinners.
At several of these dinners, I would sit next to the late Daniel Schorr, one of Nixon’s enemies list favorites. The Commerce Secretary turned mega billionaire and fiscal crusader Pete Peterson whom Nixon fired has been a humorous figure at some of these dinners.
Brent Scowcroft and Chuck Hagel would attend and offer wry snark with a grin when Joe Lieberman and John McCain were in the room.
Others to whom the Center has paid tribute have included JCS Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and CIA Director George Tenet.
Even at the Nixon Center’s first major gala even in the spring of 1995 which I helped organize, then President Bill Clinton gave not only a major speech but attended the pre-reception meeting everyone there, sitting for the entire meal, giving an hour long speech, and then hanging out a bit after.
I’ll never forget a call I got from the intimidating former CIA Director Richard Helms who said in a very deep, foreboding voice: “Young man, we in Washington are often promised interesting and worthwhile meetings. Seldom ever deliver. You delivered.” And then he hung up.
Presidential time is one of the scarcest commodities in Washington and Clinton’s deployment of those hours and the respect the Nixon Center paid him then helped create an atmosphere that even folks with extremely different world views could wrestle over policy in a respectful, civil manner.
On March 8th, the Nixon Center will present US Senator Jon Kyl with its Distinguished Service Award — and I plan to be there to continue the tradition of diversity and civility at those dinners.
— Steve Clemons