- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

As Atlantic Media’s invitation promised, “Lawmakers, Pundits and the Diplomatic Corps” would “Gather One Last Time to Ponder President’s Bush’s Legacy,” so it was no surprise that a who’s who of Beltway insiders were on hand for the Library of Congress reception before Mr. Bush’s eighth and last State of the Union address.

The guests were politically diverse, but that didn’t stop partisan rhetoric a bit. “It’s the last time for Bush, gotta celebrate,” Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, said. “If you were to ask me what the two things President Bush could say that would make me like him, they would be that he’s decided to fire his vice president and that he has decided to leave office a year early.”

Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis pointedly was not discussing his own political future — since it was revealed later that he had decided not to run for another term. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, was among the few members of Congress not wearing an identifying lapel pin. He didn’t need to. Crowds circled around the heir apparent to a political realm increasingly diminished.

The event was the fourth of its kind sponsored by the publishers of the Atlantic and the National Journal in the august Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building and is famously notable for a generous buffet and blessedly few speeches. John Fox Sullivan, the company’s chief executive and group publisher, was the night’s official greeter. For Librarian of Congress James Billington, it was a fresh opportunity to remind guests again in brief remarks that they were present in “the greatest library in the history of the world” — one that just happens to have commanding views of the U.S. Capitol across the street.

To keep things lively, a live band jazzed up the already acoustically challenged hall, playing tunes more suitable for dancing than talking.

That didn’t stop Newsweek.com blogger Tammy Haddad from conveying her excitement over the Kennedy clan’s endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama at American University earlier that day. “It was an incredible event to see all of them gather: William Kennedy Smith, Kara Kennedy, the Lawford kids, Jean Smith, Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy. There was an emotional moment when Obama told the story about how his father came to America because the Kennedys were the ones who funded the college program that brought him here. In that moment, Caroline [Kennedy] sort of lost it a little, she was emotionally overwhelmed.”

A few guests claimed to be searching for Ben Goddard, the ad guy who made the powerful “Harry and Louise” television commercial ridiculing Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care plan in 1993.

More than 800 people had been invited as usual, with far fewer showing up and even fewer moving on across the street to claim their places in the throng of dignitaries assembled for Mr. Bush’s address.

Not among them: Eleanor Merrill, chairman of the board of the Washingtonian and a veteran of decades of speech-making, who said she planned to go home early and watch the proceedings on TV. “It’s not as if I haven’t learned something by now,” she said.

To secure their ongoing interest in the state of the nation, guests had to be content with a modest swag bag valued well under the $50 legal limit allowed government workers. It held tiny LED bug lights, a metal coffee mug and a copy of the Atlantic’s January/February issue.

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