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Jonathan Chait explains what Sally Quinn really meant.
Once Washington was a happy place where a girl and her mother could be groped simultaneously in good fun by a white supremacist. Sadly, it has all been ruined by Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein.
This is the first article I've read in a long time that actually made me think there's some positive change in Washington DC!
Ah, back when we were real people hobnobbing with all the other real people. We were so glamorous, beautiful, young, and knew who the hoi polloi were and where not to be with them. And now these days we're reduced to being friends who care about each other, who support each other, point out each other's faded youth, and live within our communities. Ah the lights of civilization have just been dimmed in the bar of the good life, telling us it's last call at the trough of faux celebrity.
Or something like that.
Quinn declareth "The diplomats, too, have no power. The good ones, such as the British and the French, are more interested in economics than in power. They follow the money, as well."
The bad ones, presumably the Indians, the Chinese, and, say, the Ghanaians being interested in what? Sociology?
A confused foreigner writes: who are these people? And do they matter?
Charlie Stross @ 4, I'm a USian, but had never heard of Sally Quinn myself. Evidently she's the wife of the editor of the Washington Post, and used to be rather a queen bee of the Washington, DC social scene. I suppose she would have been important if you were interested in DC inside baseball.
How sad. Quinn has just discovered that no one really cared about her, and now they don't care about her parties, either.
Caroline #5: That should be the one-time editor.
Charlie #4: Quinn wishes that, like a previous generation of Washington hostess, she did matter. That's the point of her resentment. She wants to be Pearl Mesta or Kay Graham and is about 40 years late. Plus there's a dose of Helen Gurley Brown style "I know how to handle those naughty boys" together with the usual "How dare Obama be black!".
The most positive spin I could put on Quinn is that she misses a time in Washington when there was enough comity that people from different parties would actually socialize with each other, and when money wasn't so all-important that politicians had to spend every waking moment hustling for campaign donations. The self-aggrandizing whine does seem to drown that message out, assuming I'm not projecting it onto her in the first place.
Quinn had the same complaints (minus the 'how dare the president be black') when the Clintons showed up. I guess she's forgotten about that episode.
Charlie Stross @4: They're wealthy, shallow idiots who used to host and attend a lot of fancy dinner parties and believed they were America's equivalent of the aristocracy, entitled to unquestioning deference and respect by virtue of their position.
Surely there must be someone in DC willing to cosplay as Strom Thurmond and make Quinn feel young again.
She wants to be Pearl Mesta or Kay Graham and is about 40 years late.
Funny, I was thinking Almack's and about 200, respectively.
Another take for Charlie:
Imagine a small town where everything is in its place. Sometimes, you had to deal with a Problem, or, worse, someone comes to town, but the folks who made choices did so in comfort, and everyone else scrapped by in that hard-working, good for them way.
Now, the Problems are the easy part, and what was once a comforting, if sometimes complicated! role of hosting the important people seems tarnished. Maybe worse.
Thing is, the one thing she's right about is change on this scale is scary.
What's that about the Cardassians ruining Washington?
I'm now wondering who the Dolly Harrison character in Advise and Consent was modeled after. It was published in 1959, years before Quinn married Ben Bradlee. Probably Perle Mesta.
PJ Evans @9:
There's something else that the Obamas and the Clintons have in common, which might affect their appearances on the dinner-party circuit: kids at home.
Abi @16: Clearly this is a strong argument in favor of electing AARP members to the presidency.
Some people in Washington DC might still want to be Strom Thurmond, but they don't need Sally Quinn to get their fun.
Avram @11: That comment needed a beverage warning. You owe me a keyboard.
@8 Heckblazer is right I think that there could have been interesting things to say in there about the style and efficacy of power in different eras. Ms. Quinn did not elucidate those points because they were not, I would hazard, her main concern.
Tip O'Neil said something more interesting: to paraphrase, the difference between Congress when I started and when I retired: the people got better and the politics got worse.
This is the first news I've had of this editorial by Quinn.
Dear God. I thought it had to be a joke at first.
Another attempt at answering Charlie Stross:
Sally Quinn was a Washington socialite with no discernable qualifications who managed to get herself a job as the gossip columnist for the Washington Post(they hired her even though she said in her job interview that she'd never written a word in her life). She then slept with and eventually became the young trophy wife of her much older editor (a national hero at the time as the crusty old editor who guided Redford and Hoffman--or was it Woodward and Bernstein?--in breaking the Watergate story). Her connections got her a brief gig as anchorperson of the CBS Morning News, where she was a complete disaster. She then settled down to a long career oddly combining the roles of the capital's leading hostess and leading gossip columnist. She doesn't like Democrats other than the Kennedys, because they are so low-class and don't give good parties (she adored the Reagans), and the things she is now saying about the Obamas are the same things she said about the Clintons and the Carters.
In short, she's an upper class twit whose social standing and connections inexplicably give her a national platform to spout nonsense.
chris #12: Sally Quinn would have been out of her depth at Almack's. She wouldn't have known how to deal with, say, George Brummell.
"I guess," said Rachel with some embarrassment, "that I'll go see if the cake is ready." She was getting up rather forlornly when suddenly Laura and Carrie came back.
"We decided that there wasn't anything else to do anyway, so we might as well play bridge," said Laura.
"Besides, said Carrie, "I'm rather fond of it."
Harriet watched while they set up a dinky little card table, put out some chipped cups, and cut the cake. When they dealt the cards, she left. As she went over the fence she thought to herself, I'm glad my life is different. I bet they'll be doing that the rest of their lives--and she felt rather sorry for them, for a moment. But only for a moment.
--Harriet the Spy
Avram, that comment needed a unicorn chaser.
Patrick, your comment caused an unfortunate cascade of thoughts, and now there is a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic / Strom Thurmond fanfic plotbunny doing the Godzilla stomp all over my brain. ("Senator, we're gonna love and tolerate the $^&% out of you.")
Even unicorn chasers aren't safe any more. Can't somepony help?
I hear Dolley Madison threw some bang-up parties.
Big love to Fragano for the image of Sally Quinn at Almack's. You are so right.
Gawker has an excellent piece on her article. The best line for me, so far, has been this: "The tea lights are going out all over Georgetown; we will not see them lit again in our lifetimes."
Those who knew the Duchess of Stepney and her stepdaughter also knew enough not to comment. They were two fine vixens, of similar age and as like as two peas in a pod. There had been some scandalised mutterings when the late Duke had married an actress, and encouraged her to continue her career, but Gunny Todd was thoroughly unconventional. He had been, in so many ways, a mirror of his son.
Which was why his wife and daughter were in Washington, gracefully decorating one of those commonplace social events which every Embassy has to provide. Not the British Embassy, but that of Rain Island, that awkwardly independent Pacific coast state which did awkward things such as arresting bankers for fraud.
The Governor of South Carolina did not know them. He did not recognise the significance of Lady Helen's Thunderbird brooch, or of the bejewelled sash that Lady Carol wore. All he saw, it seems were two vixens, with tails of remarkable quality...
"Shall I, mother?"
Lady Helen had been taught how to box by one of the footmen at Stepney House, partly as a distraction in those dark days of thirty years before when her older brothers had died. And, with her fathers approval, he had taught her how to fight dirty. If she needed to hit somebody, it could not be a fair fight.
She used a left hook of impeccable style. Even if a Duke outranked a Marquess, there was no need for a fuss. The man's head jerked across, and he went down like a sack of potatoes.
"Nice one," said Lady Carol.
Lady Helen sipped at her drink. "He's old enough to know better."
Lady Carol sniggered. "If he hadn't learned better by now he never will." She stepped over an outstretched arm. "Did you get the chance to see The Third Man?"
"Went with Charlie. He said it was one of those fairy-tales that tells you a truth..."
They walked away, leaving the Governor to the Diplomatic Support Section.
Rain Island embassies do not have servants.
I attempted to describe what might have happened to a certain US politician if he had picked the wrong mother and daughter....
I trust the gnomes are amused by the results. It should have a soundtrack by Anton Karas.
Antonia T. Tiger, I'm no gnome, but I was amused.
Antonia T. Tiger @ 31:
Another proof that diplomacy is the art of saying, "Nice doggie" while reaching for a large rock.
Another response to Charlie's question, "who are these people? And do they matter?"
Whatever Sally Quinn was 40 years ago, one of the things she is these days is a regular op-ed writer for the Washington Post. And even though the Post isn't what it used to be, it's still one of the three or four most important American newspapers. So she's someone who has a very visible platform for publishing whatever opinions she has, whenever she wants to publish them.
Does Quinn matter? That's harder to say. Most Americans don't read newspapers, and most people who do read newspapers, I'd guess, don't bother with the op-ed page. Most Americans don't follow politics closely. On the other hand, the national press corps is small, and I'm pretty sure that everyone who contributes to the shaping of political opinion knows what's being said on the Post's op-ed page. Maybe those op-ed pieces are only intended for ten thousand people, but that doesn't mean they're irrelevant. Depends on which ten thousand people they are.
So if you think that any American political opinion writing matters, I'm afraid you have to say that Quinn's does.
She's not so much an op-ed writer as a not-very-interesting gossip columnist.
I heard an interesting anecdote on This American Life, #453 "Nemeses", that related how abortion advocates and foes sat down for a series of secret meetings in the 1990s after murders in abortion clinics by by an anti-abortion supporter. This did not cause them to find something they could agree upon, if anything their views probably became more polarized due to having to talk to opponents rather than just to supporters.
It did, however, cause the debate to be more civil since the leaders had personal relationships with each other. Apparently. At least as This American Life relates the story.
Mishalak @ 37:
Interestingly, a similar effort to bring together Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians was more successful, at least in terms of the people being able to accept people they had thought of as their enemies. Comparing those two efforts was one of the things that convinced me that some of the problems of the US will not be solved in this generation, or the next one, without a major change in the political climate.
The impression I get from the Sally Quinn stuff is that she's part of a de facto aristocracy that may still be riddled with bigoted attitudes. Part of being in that set was an acceptance of sexism and racism, and that may still be a factor.
So of course they have trouble with the President. Whatever his policies might be, he triggers ancient and long-tutored bigotry.
Anyway, the Sally Quinns of that world don't have power. They may have influence, but their duty is to please men, and acquiesce in some rather abusive male behaviour.
And then such people write op-ed columns. What assumptions lurk behind their words?
Bruce Cohen@38: To be an Israeli Jew, or an Israeli Palestinian, requires nothing more than having the wrong parents. Abortion protestors (or escorts) are self-selecting, and the ones who decide to "be reasonable" drop out quickly.
#23: Sally Quinn would have been out of her depth at Almack's.
Very possibly, but she doesn't know that.
Sally Quinn would like to imagine herself as one of the Patronesses of Almack's -- but she wouldn't have been able to get vouchers, being (as the real Patronesses would have thought) a jumped-up demimondaine.
Woo! All the cool kids have stopped posting to open threads. That leaves me free to scrawl obscenities in here.
I knew I should have bought that big book of obscenities. Maybe I can find some on the internet.
But some of us not-so-cool kids are still reading....
Know any good obscenities? I've been reading so much Pogo lately all I can come up with are variations on gosh-a-mickle and dag-nag-pickle.
Billions of blistering blue barnacles?
In this thread, I think the most obscene word one could use is "merit".
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