Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.
That line — or a variation thereof — was first used by Paul Begala in the 1980s. Begala says he may have heard it in a bar — which is where most truths about Washington and Hollywood originate.
This Saturday is the nerd prom, officially called the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, a gigantic bash where the powerful of Washington, the beautiful of Hollywood and the geeks of the national press corps gather together in one giant banquet room to do . . . what?
Critics say the whole affair stinks of elitism, classism and narcissism. (In my experience, it stinks mostly of bourbon.)
The New York Times, which has not attended the dinner since 2007, said through one editor: “It makes it appear that everything in one Washington is a big game, theater. But that a couple times a year the press and pols take their costumes off, sing together, mingle with celebrities and act like we are all in it together. I just don’t like the appearance.”
A blogger called BooMan wrote a few years ago: “The primary importance of the WHCA Dinner is to document yearly just how out of touch our elite politicians and journalists are with the rest of the country and to confirm the rest of us in our hatred and resentment of this class of people who have led us like thieves and incompetents for decades without let up.”
To which I say firmly and with resolve: “Can I get another drink here?”
To me, it’s a party. It’s fun. Though, some journalists squeezed into too-tight tuxedos or ball gowns defensively say they use the party to get information from powerful sources.
I have attended the dinner for almost 30 years, and the most powerful person I ever talked to was Vanna White.
White has been flipping letters since 1982 on “Wheel of Fortune,” which is the longest-running syndicated game show in television history and is seen in 60 countries across the globe.
Name me a politician who can say that.
I went up to White, and she extended her hand.
“Hi, my name is Vanna White,” she said.
Hi, I am James Carville’s celebrity double, I said.
“You look nothing like James Carville,” she said.
Thank you, I said.
I didn’t know what to say next.
Would you like to dance? I asked.
“I believe the Marine Band is playing ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’” she pointed out.
We could sort of krump along to that, I said.
She wished me a very good evening and left. Probably in search of a vowel.
But tell me how that leads to “hatred and resentment” of a “class of people who have led us like thieves and incompetents for decades without let up”?
True, I once sat at a table with the late Robert Bork. He was alive at the time (I think) and was the former U.S. appellate judge who was rejected by the Senate for the Supreme Court.
Bork became famous during the “Saturday Night Massacre,” in which President Richard Nixon ordered U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
Richardson resigned rather than do so. His top deputy, William Ruckelshaus, also resigned rather than do so. Bork was next in line, and he had no problem firing Cox.
In his posthumously published memoirs, Bork said Nixon had promised him the next seat on the Supreme Court. But Nixon resigned from office before he got a chance to give it to him.
I had no idea what to say to Bork, who was seated across the table from me.
Even though the number of journalists who cover the White House full time probably numbers fewer than 150, the dinner squeezes about 2,600 people into the main ballroom of the Washington Hilton. And except for when the president of the United States stands up and tells the jokes that have been written for him, it can be quite noisy.
Hey, that Nixon was some liar, wasn’t he? I yelled at Bork.
Bork replied either “I could squash you like a bug” or “I can’t hear you.” I do not know which.
Over the years, I have met Washington’s and Hollywood’s power elite at the nerd prom. They are the best-known entertainers, the most powerful politicians and the most influential journalists of the day.
And I always tell them the same thing: Power fades, and fame is fleeting. Sic transit gloria mundi.
That last one is Latin for “drink up.”