Weekend of a Thousand Stars

whc1 Weekend of a Thousand StarsOn the morning of Sunday, May 10, Pat Buchanan sauntered across K Street. The political pundit was wearing a blazer and a blood red tie. It was the day after the White House Correspondents Association dinner, and the weather in the nation’s capital was beautiful, bright and breezy.

Mr. Buchanan was zeroing in on John McLaughlin‘s annual Sunday brunch. The place you traditionally go after the weekend of frenzied socializing to see and be seen one last time and to wash down your ibuprofen with eggs and Champagne in good political company.

Mr. Buchanan walked into Teatro Goldoni, a nouveau Italian restaurant facing K Street, and surveyed the room. He was early and the place was mostly empty. Historically, Mr. McLaughin, the blustery dean of Sunday morning political roughhousing, has held the affair on the roof of the Hay-Adams hotel looking down on the White House. But this being 2009, things had been scaled down a bit.

A few minutes later, Mr. Buchanan stood in a corner, alongside his wife, who was chitchatting with Wendy Diamond, a New Yorker, who writes about pets for a living. (Manhattan life, huh?) Ms. Buchanan was wearing a shiny brooch, in the shape of a cat, on her lapel. The conversation turned to the subject of a late beloved kitty of the Buchanan household.

Mr. Buchanan launched into a reminiscence about those heady days of the early ’80s, when a young Ronald Reagan took hold of the presidency and a young kitten wandered into their lives. After one particularly promising day on Capitol Hill, Mr. Buchanan, had arrived home and joyfully named their new pet after the president.

Gipper, he said, had been one hell of a cat.

A woman in a flamboyant Sunday hat charged across the room. “Hello, everybody,” she said. “Thank you for coming.”

Cristina Vidal McLaughlin, second wife to John, introduced herself and said hello. What parties had people gone to the night before? Ms. Diamond said that the Bloomberg-Vanity Fair after-party at the French Embassy had been amazing. Much nicer than last year’s shindig at the Costa Rican embassy. Remember the leaky roof?

Ms. McLaughlin asked if anyone had ever been to Costa Rica, which, by the way, doesn’t even have an army. She said that before meeting John, whom she referred to as “my shining knight,” she had grown up in the Dominican Republic, which did have an army. Though sometimes she wondered why.

All of which got her started on a roundabout story, the payoff of which involved an American military gentleman, a West Point graduate, speaking insensitively about America’s involvement in the Dominican Civil War of 1965. That war, Ms. McLaughlin noted, had taken the lives of some of her countrymen, her people.

“Well, not too many people died,” offered Mr. Buchanan.

As it happened, he knew a thing or two about the Dominican Civil War, too. At the time of the skirmish, he said, he had been living in Washington writing editorials. L.B.J. couldn’t just sit back and let another Cuba emerge in our backyard, he explained.

“Ah, the days of the empire,” said Mr. Buchanan, mock wistfully.

Ms. McLaughlin frowned.

“We were protecting you from Castro!” said Mr. Buchanan playfully.

More frowning.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have gone there,” Mr. Buchanan said sideways to The Observer.

It was time for somebody to change the subject. Ms. Buchanan noted that John McLaughlin himself had once done some cat-sitting for the Gipper.

Some twenty-four hours earlier, the marathon round of D.C. kibitzing, that sometimes awkward mix of the professional and the personal, had kicked off at Tammy Haddad‘s annual garden brunch, in the verdant backyard of her home in upper northwest. In anticipation of an Obama-induced boom year, the party was outfitted with a red carpet for paparazzi on a patch of grass overlooking the driveway.

Here and there, under a steamy tent, actors stood alongside journalists and politicos: Val Kilmer, Janet Napolitano, Jake Tapper, Christian Slater, Ed Henry, Chace Crawford, Ed Schultz, David Gregory, and on and on. The Observer bumped into Bill Wolff of MSNBC.

Where was Rachel Maddow? She was skipping out on the dinner this year, said Mr. Wolff, to go to a Red Sox game and to enjoy a walking tour of gangster Whitey Bulger’s old haunts in Boston. Nearby, a gossip columnist marveled at Luke Russert‘s outfit: Salmon shorts, loafers and a baby-blue-and-white-striped jacket. Very St. Albans Goes to Nantucket.

NBC’s Ann Curry took a microphone and tried to get the crowd interested in some humanitarian causes. She was met with little response. Eventually, Ms. Haddad implored the crowd to hold up their blackberry’s in the air. “Or iPhones” said Ms. Haddad. “I’m not prejudiced.” Ms. Curry then proceeded to choreograph a simultaneous Mother’s Day tweet. People kept drinking.

That evening, after a nap, the same crowd (plus many, many more) reemerged in formal attire at the Washington Hilton, where spirits were flowing freely at an slate of pre-dinner cocktail parties. Much to everyone’s horror, the lovely, open-aired back patio was under construction, forcing the partygoers into the warren of drab, windowless rooms in the basement of the building.

Pretty soon, the hallway between the Newsweek and ABC News parties had turned into a mosh pit of power brokers and their sweaty handlers. Michael Bloomberg, Jon Bon Jovi, Chris Wallace, Natalie Portman, Stevie Wonder, Richard Belzer, Adrian Fenty, Barbara Walters—everyone jostling and elbowing for a chance to find some place to rest and have a civil conversation. There was none.

Dinner time!

Spare tickets, for the first time in recent years, were few and far between. Those who couldn’t get past security to hear President Obama and Wanda Sykes left to drown their lack of importance in more cocktails elsewhere.

When dinner finally let out, it was time for the Niche Media Capitol File’s after-party at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. A conga line of celebrities—Padma Lakshmi, Forest Whitaker, Dulé Hill, Valerie Jarrett, the Prince of Qatar, David Cross and Rachel Leigh Cook—filed into the Beaux-Arts building, its ornate interior bathed in pink lights and pulsating with hip-hop.

Fresh-faced junior staffers in short skirts stood in clusters gazing around, keeping an eye out for the celebrities. Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren and her husband, lawyer John Coale, chaperoned Alaskan “first dude” Todd Palin for a lap around the party. No, they weren’t interested in doing interviews, thank you very much. Nearby, the actor Tim Daly ran into Friday Night Lights‘ hot mom Connie Britton by the bar, where they embraced. Meghan McCain, in a form-fitting white gown, and her entourage cut a path through the party.

On the second floor, partygoers slurped mixed drinks and gazed down at all the young flesh, beginning to bump and shake on the dance floor. Slate’s Mickey Kaus, in from Los Angeles, wondered if people in D.C. actually enjoyed dance music. Could everyone be faking it? A young attractive woman with editorial ambitions and a low-cut dress moved in for a frontal barrage of flattery. She recognized Mr. Kaus, she said, from Bloggingheads.tv.

There was an eruption of excitement on the dance floor below. Rahm Emmanuel was in the house. Well-wishers scrambled for a closer look.

Across town, the voltage was perking up at the Vanity Fair-Bloomberg party, which was precisely the small, intimate affair it promised to be. It took place in a mansion that belongs to the French ambassador, but easily could have been mistaken for the house in Eyes Wide Shut. It was one of those specifically D.C. nights where David Axelrod or Mother JonesDavid Corn were in a conversation every time you looked up, but a star like Owen Wilson was left to his lonesome by the bar, and The Office‘s B.J. Novak, who has become a regular at any event in D.C. for the last year, was wandering aimlessly at several points throughout the night.

Meanwhile, others found ways to pass the time.

“He needs to figure it out, he needs to figure it out because he’s a man, he’s a fucking man,” said an insistent Jonathan Rhys-Myers while waiting for a chance to use the bathroom. Within a few moments, he gave up on that bit of conversation and went off to give the coat-check girl a kiss, one of two women he was spotted smooching.

It was impossible to walk into a room or out onto the terrace and not see someone: Justice Antonin Scalia, James Franco, Donald Rumsfeld, Graydon Carter, Michael Bloomberg, Andrea Mitchell, David Carr, Ludacris, Jason Wu, Lally and Katharine Weymouth and editors Marcus Brauchli, James Bennet, and Rick Stengel.

But unlike last year’s Bloomberg party, which was hot well past 3 a.m., this one died down at least an hour or two earlier. Two images that capped the night nicely: Valerie Jarrett and Desiree Rogers splayed on a couch, legs extended after a long day’s journey into this nightcap; and VF spokeswoman Beth Kseniak with her friend Katie Couric sitting on another couch on the other side of the house, the AC blowing their hair up.

On Sunday morning, back at the McLaughlin brunch, the weekend came to a merciful end.

MSNBC contributor and former West Wing producer Lawrence O’Donnell chatted with Mort Zuckerman, the publisher of the New York Daily News. Mr. O’Donnell was looking L.A. chic—untucked shirt, lace-less Vans sneakers. A bleary-eyed photographer sized up the twosome. “If he can’t bother to tuck in his shirt, I can’t bother to tell him to,” said the shutterbug, and snapped the picture.

Mr. McLaughlin’s orthopaedic surgeon, stood nearby, nursing a drink.

Shortly after noon, the omnipresent Mr. Corn, of Mother Jones, shook hands with the host, and excused himself to go watch his kid’s soccer game. The Observer swooped in and asked the host for his impressions of the weekend. Mr. McLaughlin, always fond of scores and grades and scales, said that compared to past presidents, Mr. Obama’s speech the night before scored around an 85 percent.

“I thought he was relaxed and in relatively good form,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “But he could have improved on his command of the material.”

So why no Hay-Adams, this year?

“We were drifting around,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “And there was the economic …” He paused. “And the appearance associated with what could be seen as an indulgence. We thought we ought to be able to work out something in between.”

And with that, his young, energetic wife materialized, grabbed him by the forearm, and physically pulled him in the direction of another conversation.