- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

“All of Washington is here,” exulted Rima al-Sabah as she greeted the likes of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and actress Lynda Carter Altman amid the mosaicized splendor of the Kuwaiti Embassy residence Wednesday night.

“Not everyone, just our best friends,” her beaming husband, Ambassador Sheik Salem al-Sabah, averred as Motion Picture Association chief Jack Valenti, Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn (with son Quinn Bradlee), Lucky Roosevelt, Susan Eisenhower and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta joined the receiving line at the reception honoring Janet Langhart Cohen Wednesday night.

Bountiful hospitality in an Alhambra-esque setting was a major draw, but so, of course, was the guest of honor, who, in addition to being the spouse of former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and one of the capital’s most glamorous and intelligent women, has just published an autobiography, “From Rage to Reason: My Life in Two Americas,” that is sure to be the talk of the town.

“I suppose it’s rather presumptuous to have written a book when I was so young,” Mrs. Cohen teased the crowd before admitting that her birth date is Dec. 22, 1941 — “two weeks after Pearl Harbor.”

Calculated or not, the revelation was bound to have its own bombshell effect because Mrs. Cohen looks years — if not decades — younger than her age.

“She’s 63?” Diane Williams, wife of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, was heard to exclaim. “She looks goooood.”

Mrs. Cohen’s less superficial qualities also were quickly affirmed.

“She’s beautiful inside and out,” said Gail West, wife of former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Togo D. West Jr. “She has worked for everything she has.”

Mrs. Cohen’s life is a study in contrasts between two very different Americas. The first: that of a poor black girl from the projects of Indianapolis struggling to build careers in fashion and journalism during a period when opportunities were just beginning to open to American blacks. The second: a life of privilege as the wife of a powerful white Republican.

The “Rage” of the title, she said, started when she realized that her father, a World War II veteran who fought the Nazis, “was afraid to wear his military uniform when he returned to America for fear of being beaten up by the Ku Klux Klan.”

It was only much later, after she became “first lady of the Pentagon,” that she was “finally moved to ‘Reason.’”

“I was standing with the troops one day — white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native Americans — and I saw progress in their faces. That’s when I finally moved from blaming America to claiming her,” she said.

Even now there are occasional trials, such as the time a U.S. senator asked her husband which of her parents was white.

“Neither one,” the perplexed Mr. Cohen said. “Why do you ask?”

“Because she’s so intelligent,” the senator replied.

Mrs. Cohen, who declined to identify the senator except to say that he has retired, said she forgave him because she understands how “racism warps even good people.”

“He wasn’t really bigoted,” she said, “just naive.”

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