Those Ill-Mannered Visigoths

I don’t have much to add to the mockery that has greeted Sally Quinn’s latest lament for the decline of the Georgetown Soiree as the epicenter of Washington power. As is often the case (until Charlie Pierce weighs in; alas, Charlie has only done a brief drive-by), the most effective snark is offered by Jon Chait, who takes the anthropological approach:

The bipartisanship cargo cult in Washington is a rather sad tribe of people that laments the decline of bipartisanship, fails to grasp the larger historic forces that made bipartisanship appear and then disappear, and concludes that the problem is the lack of dinner parties. This is, believe it or not, an extremely common belief in our capital city. Seriously. Hardly a week goes by without somebody blaming partisan polarization on the lack of proper dinner parties or, in an occasional twist, lunch.

Quinn’s essay follows the general contours of this genre, but she adds her own uniquely mortifying touches. Her mourning of the decline of the Georgetown dinner party sweeps together such disparate trends as the appearance of a Kardashian at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Citizens United, hard times at newspapers, and the appearance on the scene of “25-year-old bloggers.” The result of all these baffling developments is that Quinn now has to have dinner with actual friends and not just people using each other for access to power.

My own reaction to Quinn’s end-of-an-era ruminations is that her horror at the triumph of pure money–as opposed to money reflected in the politics of defended privilege–in Washington sorta kinda misses the point. It’s as though she were recording the Sack of Rome from the perspective of someone who is mainly exercised by the poor table manners exhibited by the Visigoths.

But the very funniest thing about Quinn’s column is her continuing struggle with the very important question of the First Family’s culpability for this descent into gauchery:

The White House’s power comes from the money people give the president. He wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for his big donors. He had a Hollywood fundraiser last month at George Clooney’s house where he raised $15 million. Those are the people who count. If the president thought that there was real power in Washington, that the Congress, the diplomatic corps or the journalists could help him in any way, then he and the first lady would surely go out more often.

The Obamas have been roundly criticized [mainly by Quinn!] for not being part of the Washington social scene. The question is, does it matter? Could Obama win or lose the presidency because he has dissed the Washington community? I suspect the answer is no. It doesn’t matter anymore.

For Quinn, admitting the Washington social scene “doesn’t matter anymore” is equivalent to a priest’s loss of faith in old age (ironic, insofar is she is the self-appointed editor of WaPo’s On Faith subsite). But it’s good to know she no longer blames Barack Obama, a victim just like the rest of us of the ruins of Washington Society.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.