- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007


The party site was New York’s glitzy Russian Tea Room, but the hosts — as well as the mood and manners — were Washington almost all the way.

The Feb. 15 bravura book launch of “Love in Black and White: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Romance,” by former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (with his wife Janet Langhart Cohen), brought out heavies in business, media and the arts, though the titular host, peripatetic former president Bill Clinton, in supersalesman mode, stole the show.

In formal remarks from a podium, Mr. Cohen praised Mr. Clinton (“the first ‘black president’ … able to relate to people all over the world and know what it means to have dreams denied”) and quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes as well as Edna St. Vincent Millay. The latter’s famous poem about the lovely light shed by a candle burning at both ends was directed at Mr. Clinton. (“How lovely is the light he has cast the world over.”) The only person to have served a president from the opposite party as defense secretary, Mr. Cohen, a former Republican congressman and senator from Maine, is also a longtime author and poet.

Mr. Clinton, in turn, began his tribute with some ribbing and ended with a virtual sermon. “One of the subtexts” of the book, he said, was how, in his friend Mr. Cohen’s words, “this skinny little Jewish boy could get this gorgeous girl to marry me. … the same way I could get all those grizzled Maine fishermen to vote for me. …. If I can do it, anybody can.” He then grew quickly sober to give an exegesis on the virtues of love with a riff on the Bible’s teaching that love (charity) is greater than hope and faith — the kind of love, he intimated, being “what Bill and Janet exemplify for me. … They are in every sense the real deal.”

A real love-in, this gathering.

Not so coincidentally, the Cohens had celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary the previous day, Valentine’s Day. But why in New York and why a reception in the traditional haunt of exiles from old Mother Russia?

“Bill’s got Russian roots,” said the glamorous Mrs. Cohen, glowing in a red silk-satin blouse resembling the one on the book’s cover. She is a former polo-playing model and television personality of black ancestry. Mr. Cohen’s grandfather immigrated from Russia in the early 1900s and founded a bakery in Bangor, Maine. The story of their lives, and of the book, Mr. Cohen noted, is “about how two people could come from two races, two religions, two cultures and regions, and meet, marry and still succeed in this great country of ours.”

Talking later to an official of a nonprofit organization, Mr. Clinton said his next book — which he is writing now — is about “the whole NGO movement: how private citizens doing good have more capacity and real impact on public policy now than anytime in the history of the world. … I’m fixing to give you a good boost,” he said.

Praise was being spread everywhere. “The Cohens are the most glamorous and exciting and approachable people,” said Samia Farouki, who came from Washington for the event. “They were married for a reason — to inspire humanity.”

Mr. Cohen, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein volunteered, is “one of the people in Washington you can talk to about anything else [except politics].” Echoing him was Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, saying: “I love people in Washington who can retain a sense of humor, and he can laugh at anything.”

The couple’s relationship “is a message, a strong one,” former Washington wife and longtime cosmetics mogul Georgette Mosbacher noted. “Color doesn’t matter, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Nevertheless, prejudice remains strong, she acknowledged, making it “almost their responsibility to do this.”

Tom Brokaw confessed that he knew Janet Langhart before she became Mrs. Cohen. “She was a candidate for the ‘Today’ show job, but Jane Pauley got it,” he said before excusing himself to track Mr. Clinton. “I need to get his commitment for something.”

Unlike nearly everyone present, New Yorker magazine editorial writer Hendrik Hertzberg said he didn’t know the couple (“I came because I was invited.”) but he stayed long enough to dub the celebrated pair the equivalent of “the [Barack] Obama zeitgeist.”

Among celebrants stopping by were CBS President Les Moonves, Lesley Stahl, Paula Zahn, Dan Rather, Mort Zuckerman, Deborah Norville, Cindy Adams, Ric Rickertsen, Raul Fernandez and Rakela Ruperez, wife of the former Spanish ambassador to the U.S., who is serving as his country’s envoy to the United Nations.

Ann Geracimos

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