Partying Like It's 1909
No girls allowed:
Bipartisanship may not be thriving on cocktails and canapés at the White House, but in at least one place in Washington it’s flourishing on a diet of steak, scotch and scathing humor.
That place is the GuyPartisan Dinner, a male-bonding meat-and-greet that brings political rivals together for trash talk, tenderloin and an uncensored airing of ideas. It is hosted periodically on the patio at Morton’s the Steakhouse on Connecticut Avenue by John Hlinko and Bill McIntyre, president and executive vice president, respectively, of the public affairs firm Grassroots Enterprise.
The dinner, says Hlinko, is a “place for all the hyperpartisans to come together. It’s not a healing place — it’s more of a hurting place.”
Hlinko, a die-hard Democrat and former member of the MoveOn.org leadership, and McIntyre, a former national spokesman for the NRA, aren’t an obvious match as business partners or as pals. What they do have in common, however, is a love of red meat, smooth liquor and a good smoke — and pretty strong feelings about politics.At some point, says Hlinko, “it occurred to us that this is true of a lot of guys in D.C.”
Over the past year, they’ve held six GuyPartisan Dinners, and they’ve drawn a host of high-level political operatives to the table, including a senior staffer for a member of the House leadership; a former 2004 presidential campaign manager; a former member of the House; the digital communications head for two presidential campaigns; reporters for one of the major D.C. dailies; as well as strategists, fundraisers, ad men, policy wonks, political activists and a writer for “The Daily Show.” Diners have included Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, libertarians and anarchists — no self-styled communists or socialists yet.
The rules of the evening are simple:
• Everything is off the record (a POLITICO reporter had to get a special waiver in order to write this piece).
• You must be willing to mock and be mocked (although no personal attacks are allowed).
• The group will spend 18 seconds discussing business, for tax purposes.
On a recent Thursday evening, dinner had been called for 6:30 p.m., but, in true guy form, no one had remembered to make a reservation.
Fortunately, in true guy form, almost everyone was late.
Once the party was ensconced at last under the red umbrellas and heat lamps, Hlinko pulled on a red-and-gold smoking jacket and lit up a cigar. When someone suggested that the stogie might be Cuban, he jokingly agreed.
“Yeah, it’s Cuban,” he said, shooting a meaningful glance at one of the Republicans at the table. “Get used to it.”
Some subjects provoked serious — and seriously heated — discussion, such as the coverage of the 2008 presidential race, which McIntyre decried as “media malpractice.”
Those on the right were particularly steamed about the treatment Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has received at the hand of Democrats and the press.
“For the first time a woman in power was showing her feminine side, and they went after her for trying to do both,” asserted Rob Van Raaphorst, a former spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, now an ad man with the firm that did the “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” campaign — kicking off a lengthy debate that was all the more remarkable in the GuyPartisan context.
Keep in mind that the reporter they allowed in to write about this was a woman, so one has to assume they adjusted their discussion accordingly. But the attitude still snuck in:
When McIntyre and Steve Rice, a former Republican consultant now working in the nonprofit world, began engaging in a private sidebar at the table, Jackson sent up their conversation: “What is this thing called a ‘blog’?” he joked.
Quipped IT guy Ben Stanfield: “They know — Meghan McCain has one.”
The evening’s sole ad hominem attack occurred when dinner arrived — more than two hours and countless highballs after the gathering had begun, as the group had repeatedly waived off the waitress’ attempts to take their order — when it was revealed that one libertarian-leaning guest ordered the salmon.
“What is that?” demanded Stanfield.
“Did a sundress come with that?” queried Hlinko. “How about a Hello Kitty bag?”
I think somebody needs to take a break from watching Madmen for a while.
Over dinner, the conversation turned to other guy-ish topics, touching briefly on breasts and then settling on sports for a spell — before returning, like the tide, to politics once more.
The evening’s participants said the dinner fills a real need. “I love being able to be political in an environment where I don’t have to apologize for my position,” said Fawal, who noted that he also comes for the steak.
I'll bet. It's just too bad it's all "politically incorrect" and all to meet in strip clubs. Then they could really let their hair down.
This silliness wouldn't even be worth noting beyond a mordant little chuckle if it weren't for the long history of exclusive male bastions of power, which these men don't even seem to be aware of when they say things like "I love being political in an environment where I don't have to apologize for my position." It's depressing that you still have to mention that gatherings where business is done and professional alliances and relationships are formed should not exclude women. But apparently you do.
The world of politics is still primarily run by men and therefore male institutions that feature get-togethers over politics and steaks puts women at an even further disadvantage, as any woman who has ever had to battle the golf/sports business exclusion knows. Until women hold half the jobs and half the power in politics, "guys" (especially liberal guys) should probably avoid creating new professional organizations that exclude them.