Speakers Table

On Sally Quinn, Money, Power, Bipartisanship and My Inner Veblen

June 21, 2012

Sally Quinn-bashers have once again been at work—ridiculing an essay headlined Sally Quinn announces the end of power in Washington.

Granted, Ms. Quinn has never delighted my inner Veblen. The essay among other things recalled the era when Quinn and her husband, Ben Bradlee, “might have attended five-course dinners a couple of nights a week, with a different wine for each course, served in a power-filled room of politicians, diplomats, White House officials and well-known journalists.” Never mind the Trumpian aura of a Quinn-bylined commentary appearing in the Washington Post with her name as the first two words in the headline above the announcement (was the copy desk trying to sabotage Ms. Quinn by way of the third-person reference?). Talk about a love of conspicuous consumption, D.C. style!

All in all, however, as many of the Quinn haters would concede, those glittery dinner parties of yore were harmless stuff compared to the oh-so-businesslike purchase of elections made possible by Citizens United. The Quinn essay is smack on the mark. Money has usurped power in D.C., or, to be far more precise, Wall Street clout and other corporate toxins have poisoned Washington. Real-life Gekkos are also disenfranchising American voters—both through brilliantly Orewellian commercials and actual anti-voting initiatives—even though we’re the ones who supposedly sent the politicians to D.C. in the first place. Corporate boards today are the true American electorate. Here’s to more efficient and callous plutocracy! Perhaps we can replace the electoral college not with a direct vote but with a PAC-sponsored meeting every four years of the combined directors of the top companies in the S&P. The Street’s mindset has even won at the Washington Post Company itself—Ms. Quinn’s employer—which has shortchanged its newsroom in favor of the bottom line, an unwitting but still grotesque parody of Kay Graham’s desire to be a prize-winning business woman. I much prefer Ben Bradlee’s repeatedly realized ambition to be a more traditional kind of journalistic prize winner. I’m not anti-business and understand the need for profit in the private sector, whether from newspapering or toilet paper, but enough is enough.

Let me also stick up for Sally Quinn’s defense of yesteryear’s bipartisanship (strikingly shown by the photograph that ran with her article—of Kay Graham warmingly greeting the Reagans despite her deceased husband’s Democratic ties, and despite the the Post’s Watergate-related battles with prominent Republicans). It is no act on her part. Among the regular guests of Sally Quinn’s more conservative parents, in her youth, was none other than Barry Goldwater, who, like Ronald Reagan, lacked the full jihadist fervor of today’s rightwing warriors. She can see conservatives as family friends, not just bulls-eyes for rhetoric. Yes, bipartisanship at its worst can lead to fiascoes like “No Child Left Behind” and squelching of dissent and mindless support of futile and immoral wars, as well as the lack of a single-payer plan and completely universal coverage, which would help us rein in healthcare costs. But bipartisan flexibility can also result in, for example, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency—actually born in the Nixon era; yes, the very bureaucracy that scads of Republicans today want hobbled or destroyed.

Furthermore, when conservatives and liberals regularly supped together at Antoinette-sumptuous dinners, the debates on the House and Senate floors were less hateful. You could say that Georgetown dinner parties reflected, not created, bipartisanship, but I myself think it was a mix; perhaps enough of the old-time parties would have at least helped to save the U.S. from a credit downgrade exacerbated by all the hyperpartisanship, especially on the Republicans’ side. The long-term result of all this political dysfunction was not and is not merely “inside baseball”; rather, the loss of countless jobs and billions in American wealth, far, far beyond the Beltway. Just because Georgetown can be preternaturally self important—I take more than a few nostalgic potshots at that in The Solomon Scandals, set in the Washington of several decades ago—doesn’t mean that Quinnlike hostesses are devoid of usefulness to the cosmos at large.

At a considerably less rarefied level of D.C.-area society, I can recall the protracted but always good-natured jousting between my parents and our Republicans neighbors south of Alexandria when I was growing up. In a catty attack on Ms. Quinn, New York Magazine made fun of her comments about a buffet table incident in the 1950s when “Senator Strom Thurmond, grinning from ear to ear, had one hand on my behind and and other on my mother’s.” I didn’t know Sen. Thurmond, but Harry S. Dent, Sr., his aide and architect of the notorious Southern Strategy, which taints so much of the GOP even today, lived almost next door. The Dents and like-minded people were always neighborly toward us and we toward them despite our fervent loathing of segregation, whether or not it was passed off as "states' rights"; and in the end, our side prevailed in the U.S., with Thurmond at least mitigating his destructive stridency, lest the political world leave him behind. He even hired some African-American staffers and voted for a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. But here’s the real lesson. Both sides had believed they could educate the other one out of its wrongheadedness. Conservatives learned from liberals, and vice versa. 

Today, alas, political strategy all too frequently is not to outeducate but rather to outbully and outspend, with bought think tanks taking the place of thinking. In the old Georgetown, the dinner chatter was a chance to educate while compartmentalizing—while separating the issues from the people, and one issue from the other. No perfection back then, no nirvana! But right-wing billionaires and other special-interest extremists did not so easily dominate the national agenda. Norquistian fanatics on a particular issue could not dictate to an entire party (the one with three letters in its nickname) and reduce the need for the Georgetown kind. That is what Sally Quinn, her haughty side notwithstanding, fathoms endlessly better than do so many of her critics.

And a few related thoughts…

Out of fairness to Ms. Quinn, a stranger to me, as I have emphasized with the honorific, I’ll ping @sallyquinndc to see if she wants to weigh with in her own thoughts, especially about the headline over her essay. I would love to know the full story of the headline’s origins. “If the Post had run a more restrained headline or at least hadn’t used your name there,” I’d ask her as well, “do you think so many haters would have ganged up on you for yet another bashing?”

The pro-Quinn faction, of course, might also see major positives here. If Ms. Quinn is already dead, why do so many of her enemies still care about her opinions? Meanwhile the Post Web crew must be grateful to Gawker and the like for the resultant hit count. The headline, at least as I’m seeing it on the Web, is pure catnip for search engines. A lesson from the latest Quinn controversy, whether or not the headline in the end flattered Ms. Quinn? Definitely. If the Post wants to maximize profits for its shareholders, the paper should expand, not shrink, her writing duties—her flaws notwithstanding—and favor her with attentive editing so she comes across as less guillotine-worthy to her enemies. She’ll still find plenty of other ways to provoke them while jacking up Web traffic. How many Posties enjoy the same name recognition? With luck, she can even mentor a few more like her, albeit with the haughtiness quotient dialed back; Katharine Weymouth’s editors could do worse than to restore the old color and excitement from the Bradlee era. With the Post local coverage so lacking—I blame the miserliness of the Post business side, not the actual reporters—I spend a lot more time reading the New York Times than the paper across the river from me. More Quinn and the like, mixed with in-depth hyperlocal coverage of plebes and nonplebes alike, might restore my enthusiasm. Back in the Bradlee days she was a Web personality before the Net even existed; and it would be folly not to bring her back to the very center of limelight.

In fact, I would suggest that, with the encouragement of Sally Quinn’s employer, but most definitely without any proposed $250,000 charges or other contemplated transactions of the ilk that sullied the Post a few years back, Ms. Quinn resume her bipartisan salons within the limits of time and energy (in photos at least, she has held up well for someone who will celebrate her 71st birthday on July 1). Just turn Ms. Quinn loose and let her socialize for the love of it, not for commerce, unless you count good fodder for Style. But would Power People come? Well, surely not every politician is out to ostracize Ms. Quinn; besides, what better way for conservative Republicans from moderate districts to show open-mindedness than to drink and dine with her? Mix those guests with the standard Democratic suspects, and perhaps D.C. can become just a tad less hate-ridden and dysfunctional and save a few jobs in Muskogee.

By David H. Rothman, a writer and D.C. -area native

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Bye Bye Betsey with Boomerang Tours

May 30, 2012

 From left to right:  Rachel Schoonover Rubin, David Nelson, Abigail Adams Greenway, Bill Starrels, Jim Wilcox, Clarisa Ringlien, Chris Ringlien (Photo by: Janine Schoonover) From left to right: Rachel Schoonover Rubin, David Nelson, Abigail Adams Greenway, Bill Starrels, Jim Wilcox, Clarisa Ringlien, Chris Ringlien

Wednesday evening was the goodbye party for the beloved Betsey Johnson Georgetown store and the welcome party for the new Boomerang Boat.

Guests enjoyed cocktails and the water views from the rooftop deck of the Boomerang Boat prior to the rain bringing everyone inside the boat cabin.  Many of the female guests were wearing Betsey Johnson clothing as a tribute to the store and their friendship over the years with Jenny Zinn, who has worked at the Georgetown location for over 10 years.  Fond stories of shopping at the shop and the good karma the outfits brought to their owners provided the cocktail fodder and forged new friendships.  Proudly wearing their Betsey dresses, shoes, jewelry, handbags and goodness know what else were Lolly Amons, Sherie Gabriel, Rachel Schoonover and Abigail Adams Greenway to name a few.  Business and community leaders in attendance included Bill Starrels, Jim Wilcox and Dave Nelson.  

Nikki and Dave DuBois (Photo by: Janine Schoonover) Nikki and Dave DuBois

Nikki and Dave DuBois provided their signature boomerang hospitality with Dave serving up cocktails and Nikki chatting up the party guests.  As Georgetown residents and business owners for the past ten years, they started Boomerang Tours with the infamous Boomerang Bus well-known for its fun times. The Boomerang Boat is their new venture providing an afternoon or evening out on the water departing from the Georgetown Waterfront and taking guests over to Old Town, Alexandria and then back to Georgetown.  Inside the main cabin is a seating area, built-in bar, DJ booth, flat screen TV, and wrap around windows providing views of the monuments and Kennedy Center.  Private parties may also be booked.

With the news that Tony & Joe's and Nick's Riverside Grill plan to have their restaurants fully open and operational within the next 4-6 weeks, the Georgetown Waterfront will be the happening place this summer to sit outside or take a Boomerang Boat ride.  Summer weather is here and the party guests demonstrated the whimsy of Betsey Johnson will live on.  What better excuse to play hookey and go out on the water for a fun escape? 

Ticket and departure information can be found at Ride The Boomerang.

By Janine Schoonover, Co-Chair Economic Development + Small Business, Georgetown Business Association

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Filming "The Upside of Iris" in Georgetown

May 1, 2012

In front of Pie Sisters on M Street Jennifer Schwed gives direction to Charlie Tan, leading lady from the film The Upside of Iris. (Photo by: Doug Bradshaw) In front of Pie Sisters on M Street Jennifer Schwed gives direction to Charlie Tan, leading lady from the film The Upside of Iris.

D.C. is widely heralded as the home of government, power, influence, and (occasionally) a good sports team or two, but certainly not film. However, local filmmaker Jennifer Schwed is trying to change that.

Jennifer Schwed (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Jennifer Schwed

On Monday, writer, director and producer Jennifer Schwed started shooting her feature length film, The Upside of Iris at the Pie Sisters shop in Georgetown. It is a quirky and loveable tale about Iris (a hopelessly romantic woman who sees the world upside-down) and how she uses her unique perspective to reconnect with her childhood love, and change the lives of those around her. The film that Iris has most been compared to is the French classic, Amélie.

Mr. Stanislav (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Mr. Stanislav

In one of the more humorous (and touching) scenes filmed at the Pie Sisters shop on Monday, Iris gives her magical “perspective-enhancing glasses” to Mrs. Stanislav (the shop owner) and urges her to gaze upon her husband. After about 50 years of marriage (apparently the last couple decades of which have been spent constantly bickering) the last thing Mrs. Stanislav wants to see is see is Mr. Stanislav. However, under the pleasant pressure from dear Iris she gives in, dons the glasses and is absolutely floored! Through the specs she sees her husband, but not the crotchety old grouch she was expecting, but she sees him as the young, strapping man that she fell in love with so many years ago. She remembers what things were like, and the flame of love is reignited.

Young Mr. Stanislav (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Young Mr. Stanislav

This is a truly local, indy film, and nearly the entire production team is from the D.C. area. The beautiful young woman playing the lead (Ms. Charley Tan) was actually “discovered” walking on M Street!

Schwed admitted, “Charley is absolutely perfect for the role of Iris. When I saw her walking in Georgetown, I literally said out loud, ‘That’s Iris. That’s our girl…’ The only problem on-set we’ve had is that her romantic interest in the film, well, his character’s name is ‘Charlie,’ so when I say, ‘Hey Charley, I need you to do this or that,’ two people turn and say, ‘Okay!’”

Hanna Levy (Photo by: Doug Bradshaw) Hanna Levy

Having written, directed or produced 12 short art films that have played at over a dozen international film festivals, Schwed was asked, “What is the biggest challenge so far in making a feature length film?” Her response? “Raising money.”

Although her team has not yet reached their budget goal, they are forging ahead, but are keeping a keen eye out for those who can help. “We are definitely interested in talking with patrons of the arts, film investors and even local companies regarding sponsorship or some type of ‘tasteful’ product placement.”

(Photo by: Judith Beermann)

(Photo by: Doug Bradshaw)

You can see an earlier promotional shoot and get more information on the film and how you can help support The Upside of Iris here.

Doug Bradshaw (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Doug Bradshaw


By Doug Bradshaw, associate producer of The Upside of Iris




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