American Conservative Union 40th Anniversary: Party Report
Hey, who wouldn't want to go to the black-tie gala of the nation's oldest modern conservative organization? It's like a Young Americans for Freedom reunion! They killed HillaryCare! Bob Novak will be there! And did we mention the President is speaking? Serious stroking of base action. How could we say no?
6:10PM Late, tripping over dress, still can't quite get used to showing up somewhere in evening wear while it's still daylight. Arrive at JW Marriott just as a dozen black SUVs whip past, sirens blaring.
6:15PM Atrium with dramatic escalators solves minor personal mystery: Where did they film the White House Correspondents' Dinner scenes in "Broadcast News"? (Because it certainly wasn't at the Hinckley Hilton, where the dinner actually is.) Even the metal detectors are in the same place.
6:20PM Acquire fellow undercover operative [FUO] and attempt to recover Will Call tix. Confusion. Name not on list. Angry old white men growing restless. Am swooped up by ACU contact and whisked by security. (Feeling very important.) Head to special "VIP Reception."
6:30PM Average age at VIP Reception is about 50. Conservative women, paradoxically, do not seem to be hampered by the Little Black Dress orthodoxy. Jewel tones dominate. Am nearly run over by Tony Blankley as he bumrushes the bar.
Tony Snow in deep conversation with Mitch McConnell. Ed Gillespie. ("Who?" asks FUO. "Chairman of the RNC." "Which one?" "Twelve o'clock. The one without a chin.") Bob Novak. Lots of people who seem vaguely familiar in that "I must have seen you on C-SPAN once" kind of way. Stuffy in here. Literally. Don't want to make any grand pronouncements just yet, but the level of attractiveness in the room is such that Tony Snow is far and away the best looking man here.
6:45PM Secret service moves everyone to dining room, announces intention to lock us in before the POTUS arrives. Assessment of complete crowd: Lots of rented tuxes on the men, some unfortunate dress choices on the women. Three out of four tuxes have at least one symbol of American freedom on their lapel. FUO: "If I had known that this was going to be a lapel-pin type of thing. . ."
7:00PM Locked in. Tony Snow (who also is among the best dressed), introduces the priest who will bless us or something. Forced to stand. After that, forced to remain standing: We hear an extremely deep-throated version of the national anthem. "Hail to the Chief" plays on tinny loudspeakers. Still standing.
7:08PM Yep. Standing here. Waiting for the Prez. Loudspeakers now playing something else that's martial and annoying.
7:10PM Finally. Bush enters, sans tux -- guess he's not staying for dinner. He's wearing that blue tie he always wears. Overheard:
"See how it matches his eyes?"
"That's such a high school debate team trick."
Karl Rove is wearing all blue. Blue suit, shirt, tie. He is rather flushed. Lips do not move during speech. Claps heartily at applause lines, but does not crack even a hint of a smile the entire time.
7:10PM-7:45PM: The Speech
• Number of standing O's: Four or five (mostly on applause lines having to do with military/national security). Occur at:
- "Given that choice, I will defend America every time." [Risky!]
- "But I will never turn over America's national security decisions to leaders of other countries." [Was not aware this was an option!]
- "It is time for liberal senators to stop playing politics with American justice."
- "We've got a fantastic United States military." [Whoa, don't go out too far on a limb there. . . ]
• Number of Secret Service agents who turn and start to put their hands in their jackets when FUO knocks over several glasses in the middle of the speech: Five.
• How long it takes for people to start chanting, "Four more years! Four more years!" after Bush is done: 10 seconds, tops.
• How soon the president is gone: Very soon.
Speech trivia: The press corps knows to leave when Bush gets to the "Freedom is the Almighty's gift. . . " section.
8:00PM Between the waiting and standing, I could eat a fucking horse. And, in fact, I may be doing that. (Menus says "filet mignon," but it's been cooked to the point of anonymity.)
8:10PM Surprising amount of room working, though that may be because the after-party seen is, uhm, weak. Grover Norquist is especially agile in his weaving amongst the conserverati.
8:45PM Video presentation on the history of the ACU. Zzzzzzz.
9:15PM People standing up to be introduced. Basically the entire crowd gets introduced at some point. Novak gets a standing O. Grover gets loud applause. Zell Miller gets the love as befits the right's David Brock. Or would he be the left's David Brock? Whatever. They can have him. Every senator and congressman that's there. (Including Bob Barr, Todd Tiahrt, Chris Cox.) Phyllis Schafley. Can we leave yet?
9:20PM NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre [pictured above, at right] gives a speech and says -- could not make this up -- that it's NRA tradition to "honor" those who have served the cause of Second Amendment rights by giving them a firearm. [Curious: What is the message that sends? We think people may try to kill you? Kill yourself? You look like you need a surrogate penis?] Tonight, they want to present a firearm to ACU prez David Keene. . . but there's a ban on handguns in the District. So they give him a big photo of one. Female NRA exec holds up pic over her head and walks around the stage like Vanna White. This is hysterical. And the gun? It's a Charleton Heston "Peacemaker" replica. OMG. I'm dying. They're going to give him the real one in Virigina, "where people care about the Second Amendment." Yes!
9:30PM No after party? Sure, there's an after party. It's in the bar, and the tab is being picked up by the ACU. A dozen twenty- to thirty-somethings, drinking beer. Luminaries (LaPierre, a Virginia congressman whose name I forget, Grover) come over to have hands kissed, say hi. As the night wears on, another difference between attendees at this event and the journo-types who dominated the others (WHCD, RTCA) emerges. . . how to put this delicately? Hmmm. OK: I have not had my rack checked out so brazenly and so often since I stopped going to Cozumel for Spring Break. What is it with the cultural conservatives? They're all Ken-Starring me and shit.
10:00PM VIP AFTER PARTY in David Keene's suite! Raise the roof!
10:10PM At the ultra-exclusive soiree: Washington Times folks (including Ralph Hallow, national political reporter), random ACU/Young Americans for Freedom alums, and -- the highlight of my evening -- Paul Wolfowitz's new speech writer. Overheard:
"I saw him that the Bloomberg party."
"He was with two beautiful women."
"Oh, yeah. I've heard about that."
"I mean, I just, I've heard about his social life."
So. Right. Uhm. Anyway. Pretty sedate after party. There are cheese plates and more than one selection for red and white wine, tho. Who says conservatives don't know how to have a good time?