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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sally Quinn’s History of the Modern Presidency

I finally got around to reading a much-derided Sally Quinn column that appeared in the Washington Post yesterday, and I have to say, you really have to read it to believe it. Indeed, it took me three readings before I was entirely sure it wasn’t some sort of elaborate put-on.
Alas, it’s not. Quinn, a Washington social maven with a spotty journalistic career and a marriage to former Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, suggests that the best thing Barack Obama can do for his presidency is to spend more time (along with his family and his top staff) on the Washington social circuit.
To strengthen her argument, she conducts an amazing reinterpretation of the modern presidency to show that presidents who spurned the dinner-and-cocktail-party rituals of the Emerald City have gotten themselves into worlds of trouble. She suggests that Nixon’s and Clinton’s impeachments, Carter’s failure to get re-elected, and George W. Bush’s ultimate political decline all were significantly caused by the disdain they instilled amongst the local social lions (presumably like herself). This self-referential hallucination is bad enough as revisionist history. But that she would claim, and the very serious Post would publish, that at this particular moment in history Barack Obama isn’t spending enough time sucking up to the poohbahs of the hated capital city is bizarre beyond all reality.
The sad thing is that Quinn isn’t completely alone in her weird bubble. Mark Halperin of TIME, co-author of the endlessly discussed 2008 campaign book Game Change, recently wrote that one of Obama’s five biggest mistakes during his first year in office was insufficiently “wooing official Washington:”

[T]he First Couple and their top aides have shown no hankering for the Establishment seal of approval, nor have they accepted the glut of invitations to embassy parties and other tribal rituals of the political class. In the sphere of Washington glitter, the Clintons were clumsy and the Bush team indifferent, but the Obama Administration has turned a cold shoulder, disappointing Beltway salons and newsrooms whose denizens hoped the über-cool newbies would play.

Lord have mercy. Can’t disappoint those “Beltway salons and newsrooms,” can we?
I’ve never cared for the lefty blogospheric habit of referring to the chattering classes of Washington as “the Village,” implying as it does personal knowledge of the motives and characters of a very large and diverse bunch of total strangers. But if there is a Village, Sally Quinn is the mayor, and Halperin is one of her spokesmen.

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