JUST ANOTHER TUESDAY NIGHT INSIDE THE BELTWAY
11:00 PM, Nov 17, 1996
Jerry McEntee, head of the public-employees' union known as AFSCME, is presiding over one of the most delightful of tonight's victory celebrations: Shake 'n' Bake chicken, lots of (American) beer, Magic Marker-and-stick-pin electoral maps. . . . AFSCME may now be made up of welfare caseworkers and teacher's aides, but the place was as jovial as Saturday night at the pipefitters' local. Standing behind a lectern, McEntee called off the results as they came in over the (perfectly audible) television set.
"Guam has gone for President Clinton," says Peter Jennings.
"Guam! Guam has gone for Bill Clinton," shouts Jerry McEntee.
Nearly every table is full, packed with the usual assortment of lobbyists and other permanent Washington types digging into blackened steaks and cuts of sea bass before heading off to one of the night's many election parties. The Palm first became famous in New York, where it was a meeting place for wellknown figures from Broadway and the sports world. In Washington, of course, all the really glamorous people are involved in one way or another in politics, and the staff at The Palm respond accordingly. "Torricelli took New Jersey," reports one burly waiter in a white apron while refilling a water glass. "Helms is up in North Carolina, but it's going to be a while before the numbers from Prop. 209 in California come in." Maybe in New York the waiters can recite box scores.
Nobody swings like movement conservatives -- why do you think they call them movement conservatives? -- but the lowest voter turnout since 1924 manifests itself at the "conservative central" clubhouse, the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Va. It is apparently the place not to be. The invitation promised conservative stars galore, "spin doctors on call," but it's a Who's Who of no-shows. The American Conservative Union's David Keene wasn't there. Nor was Accuracy in Media's Reed Irvine. Poll cutie Kellyanne Fitzpatrick? On camera at CNN.
But the party does have its host, Morton Blackwell, the institute's founder and a sort of Baton Rouge-ish version of Jerry Falwell. He was asked to distill why Dole was flaming out, and he responded by offering free take-home handouts on The Ten Worst Mistakes of Losing Candidates, The Ten Worst Mistakes of Winning Candidates, The Eight Political Lessons Some People Never Learn (#4: "If people believe that the main reason you want to be elected is that you want to be elected, you're toast"), and The 45 [45!] Laws of the Public Policy Process ("Keep your eye on the main chance and don't stop to kick every barking dog").
Any number of the above apply to the Dole campaign. But the campaign's real big shortcoming, as Morton explains it, is that "I talked to a half-dozen top people in the campaign -- I'd prefer not to identify them -- and I offered repeatedly to take a leave of absence from day-to-day activities and try to put together a technologically proficient youth effort for Dole. Nothing ever happened!"
If only they'd listened!
This is undoubtedly the most high-powered of the small Democratic celebrations -- a party thrown by Bill Clinton's alma mater, the Democratic Leadership Council, at the Sheraton Carlton. A smattering of intellectuals is here (Seymour Martin Lipset is one), and like all intellectuals on Election Night, they're glued to the TV sets. The DLC people brim with a not-unmerited self-satisfaction, as Will Marshall talks with his friends about how much of a role the president's DLC-inspired welfare reforms had in his smashing comeback. Relatively conservative though the DLC may be, these are all party regulars. There's unfeigned glee at the triumph of every Democrat, not just the DLC-model "moderates" running against southern troglodytes. When John Kerry, a decidedly old kind of Democrat, is proclaimed the winner over the decidedly moderate Bill Weld, the assembled moderates let out a communal Heyyyyy and send up a forest of raised fists. Moderation isn't what it used to be.