Byline: Aileen Mehle
Ah, the Inauguration. What excitement! What a joy! God Bless America! Even the Democrats!
But first one had to overcome the weather — oh, hell! But then, if you asked the Republicans, never mind the rain, the fog, the wind, the sleet and the snow, they brought their own brand of sunshine with them, especially the Texans, striding into town in their black and white cowboy hats and their hand-tooled boots.
And what about those endless private planes, flying in flocks searching for their landing slots at the Washington airport or winging into Baltimore where the field was not so crowded, a mere 150 private jets lined up cheek-to-jowl for the festivities and more flying in? It was the four days in history when Washington turned into Bushington.
Did anyone ever look so proud as George and Barbara? Did anyone ever look happier and handsomer than George W. and Laura? Weren’t her clothes perfect? Wasn’t his speech just grand? Is anyone better looking than Jeb Bush in person, but not in pictures and not on television? At the Ohio Inaugural Ball at the Convention Center, he looked like a movie star — better. And when one of the biggest women donors at the party told him that she was really quite in love with his beautiful son, George P., Jeb said resignedly as though he’d heard it hundreds of times before, “Stand in line.” Hey, like son, like father.
All the big Republican donors were invited to special, if not exclusive, affairs. There were more than 2,500 guests at each of the three private candlelight dinners around town, so if you bumped into somebody you knew, not just some somebody, you were lucky. The nine huge balls drew thousands — there were 10,000 alone at the Texas Black Tie and Boots party. At the Ohio party the lights were so terribly murky — until John Hendrickson, there with his wife, the blonde heiress Marylou Whitney in white satin embroidered in crystals, succeeded in getting them turned up — that you couldn’t see our new Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynn, until they showed up on the enormous TV screens, speaking, smiling, dancing and generally bubbling over.
So what it all boils down to in Washington is, if you really want to see the stars of the new administration and surprise, even a few old faces, the thing to do is get yourself invited to the best private party in town, a bipartisan one at that. Not that it’s easy. Everyone clamors and pulls rank to get in. The Jockey Club at the Fairfax Hotel, where the party was held, was chock-a-block with the powerful — and a few who try to act like they are — and there were at least 200 on the waiting list. The hosts of this most-coveted party in town were Buffy and Bill Cafritz, Phyllis George and Nancy Brinker, all Republicans to the bone, even if all their guests weren’t. Of course, you could say Buffy herself is practically bipartisan, if that means the Democrats love you almost as much as the Republicans do. That’s our Buffy, who looked brilliant in a red beaded jacket and pants, just the thing with her red-gold hair. Her co-hostesses, Phyllis and Nancy, both looked glamorous too, which, if everyone is staring at you, is the only way to go.
One of the most outstanding women in a room full of them was Alma Powell in a white organza jacket and pearls. I had never met her before, nor even seen her, but the impression she made on me in just those few moments at the party was profound. Some lucky women (and men) have an almost palpable aura around them — which is just a fancy way of saying good vibes — and that is Mrs. P. to a T. If her husband, our new Secretary of State, was surrounded — and he was — so was she. So were our Governor George Pataki and his wife Libby Pataki and George W.’s brother Neil and his wife, Sharon; Liddy and Bob Dole; and Alan Greenspan (of course) and his wife, Andrea Mitchell. And then there were all the big TV’ers and pundits: Diane Sawyer in off-the-shoulder black, Sam Donaldson, Chris Matthews, Barbara Walters, Dan Rather, Judy Woodruff and Al Hunt, Cokie and Steve Roberts, David Gergen, Paul Gigot, Tim Russert and Maureen Orth, Jeff Greenfield, lovely Helene and William Safire, Jim Lehrer, Bob Schieffer, Deborah Wellner, Chris Wallace and David Westin. Also such diplomats as the British Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer and Lady Meyer, the German Ambassador Juergen Chroborg and Mrs. Chroborg, the French Ambassador Francois Bujon de l’Estang and Mme. Bujon de l’Estang, the Spanish Ambassador Antonio de Oyarzabal and Mrs. Oyarzabal and the Brazilian Ambassador Rubens Antonio Barbosa and Mrs. Barbosa.
It was hard not to trip over a Senator or a former one — George Allen, Chuck Robb, Evan Bayh, Bill Frist, Fred Thompson, John Warner, like that. Or to miss former Ambassador William McCormick Blair; Donna and Mack McClarty; the William Bennetts; Christopher Buckley; Jack Kemp; Joe Armstrong; Carol and Earle Mack; Carroll Petrie, swathed in chinchilla; Jean and Jerry Jones (he owns the Dallas Cowboys); Paige Rense and Kenneth Noland; Penne Korth; Australian Ambassador Andrew Peacock; the William Kristols; Michael Kaiser, the new head of the Kennedy Center; Governor John Engler; Dixie Carter; Julie Cummings (she is the chic daughter of Republican stalwarts Max and Marjorie Fisher); Kay Graham; MaryAnne Mobley; Barbara Eden; Samia and Huda Farouki; Polly Kraft and Lloyd Cutler; Laura Bush’s bright and pretty new social secretary, Cathy Finley, and her husband, Tim; Charles Gargano; Katherine Harris and Anders Ebbeson; Clay Johnson, who is the Assistant to the President and director of presidential personnel (he was also George W.’s roommate at Andover and Yale); Mary and Reese Milner; Mary Margaret and Jack Valenti; Jacques Nasser of Ford; Peggy Noonan; the Bill Mosses; Counselor to the President Karl Rove, Donna Shalala (yes, Donna Shalala), and on and on into the night, not to forget Robert Higdon, the Prince of Wales’s man in Washington, who gave an intimate little dinner for Buffy’s et al. out-of-town guests before the Jockey Club fandango. But more of that on Friday.