Erik Tarloff

Day Five
Friday, Aug. 30, 1996 

       Such a hangover!
       Headache, nausea, and a pervasive, nagging stupidity. My morning run around the lake today was a foretaste of perdition.
       I don’t ordinarily get hangovers anymore. One of the few advantages of being an “aging baby boomer” (thanks again, ABC News) is that, where appetites are concerned, I’ve finally learned how to pace myself. But this is a political convention. When you don’t start dinner until 11:30 or so, pacing yourself becomes an irrelevant concept. An outright impossibility. Gandhi would have been hard pressed to pace himself in this environment.
       After Christopher Dodd’s nominating speech Wednesday night, Laura and I joined a large group of pols and journalists for a rollicking dinner at a good Italian restaurant. Everything about the evening would have been terrific had it only occurred three hours earlier. Good garlicky food, plenteous drink, congenial company, and a lively argument about the merits of the vice president’s speech. (A certain personage from ABC News found it appallingly bathetic, more worthy of Oprah than a major party’s political convention, whereas some of us found it stirring, affecting, and eloquent–variations of this argument seem to have become a leitmotif at the Chicago convention.) The evening boasted most everything you could possibly ask for. But not at bedtime, for God’s sake! Not when we should have been in our jammies, sipping warm milk and saying our prayers. No, wait, that’s what they do at Republican Conventions. Well, anyway, we aging baby boomers can’t handle the fast lane anymore, regardless of party affiliation.
       Although perhaps I shouldn’t generalize quite so sweepingly. Because sometime after one a.m., as I was preparing to get up from the table and stagger out the restaurant door in search of a cab (Laura, with several early-Thursday-morning spin sessions on her schedule, had left almost an hour before, and had selfishly commandeered our car and driver), I noticed that the ABC News personage and Bob Shrum were both lighting up large cigars, clearly settling in for another hour or so of pungent schmoozing. Sidney Blumenthal and I looked on with a mixture of envy and rue, silently and simultaneously engaging in the same internal debate. Then we turned to each other and shrugged. Nope. Not tonight. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.


       Earlier today, when I descended to the lobby to get myself 16 or 17 cups of coffee, I witnessed a ravening army of reporters pursuing a tight-lipped Bruce Lindsey down an escalator. They were exhibiting the cannibalistic frenzy that tells you something major is in the offing. But I didn’t discover what it was for another couple of hours.
       Then a Cabinet wife proudly offered the Dick Morris story, and all became clear. As I write, it’s still too soon to tell what kind of media play it’s going to be receiving, but one thing is virtually undeniable: The timing of the story proves it was a put-up job. We learn about this insanity on the day of the president’s big speech? Hello?
       Nothing negative about the Clinton White House has been treated tolerantly or casually by the press, so I suppose it’s unreasonable to hope that this story will be any different. But it is hard for me to see how it signifies much beyond itself. And I tend to doubt it has much in the way of legs–DESPISED ADVISOR ENTRAPPED BY HOOKER! FILM AT 11!--but it will certainly distort, if not dominate, the coverage of Clinton’s acceptance speech, and that’s obviously the point. There are a lot of preoccupied-looking people wandering the lobby of this hotel right now.
       These political sex scandals are odd, though. They have virtually nothing to do with governance or leadership (if FDR, JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King all strayed, it’s hard to make the case it should be disqualifying). They almost invariably concern matters that are none of our business. There’s usually as much venality involved in the breaking of the story as there is in the story itself. And yet … they are irresistible. There isn’t a New York Post available for love or money in this hotel; every copy must have been grabbed up as soon as it was delivered. If I had been here, I would have grabbed up one myself. Maybe more than one. There’s probably a scalper’s fortune to be made here in Chicago today.


       Today, Thursday, aside from being the day of the president’s acceptance speech, is a day overloaded with spouse events. My sister-spouses and I shared our reactions to the Dick Morris story as we traveled from the Women’s Leadership Forum Luncheon to the Congressional and Cabinet Wives’ Luncheon (women adore luncheons, don’t they? Men don’t even eat luncheon…they’re satisfied with lunch) and discussed the details which were known to us and invented others just to fill in the blanks, and those reactions of ours were decidedly un-solemn. I don’t think the level of hilarity we indulged in was at all seemly, but unfortunately, I was laughing too hard to express my disapproval.
       I was faced with a small loyalty crisis at one of these spouse luncheons (we’ve had luncheons up the wazoo today). I had been seated with the spouses, of course, but a very good friend of mine was sitting at one of the principals’ tables. “Hey, Erik,” he called out, “Come join the guys!”
       But I just couldn’t do it. Like the Danes who defiantly wore the Star of David during the German occupation, I felt it necessary to express my solidarity with my fellow-wives. We’ve been through so much together. So instead, Herb Moses, Barney Frank’s partner, broke ranks and claimed the free seat at my friend’s table.
       Big mistake, Herb. You missed some lively commentary on the Dick Morris debacle.


       Okay, it’s now 1:15 a.m., Friday, I’ve absconded prematurely from a dinner for Democratic fund-raisers, and even though I’m exhausted, and even though I’m moving to California tomorrow, I guess I’m really honor-bound to report on the last night of the convention.
       A large group of us went to the United Center in the secretary of agriculture’s van. I can’t remember everyone–the van was so crowded I’m sure several traffic laws were being violated even before the gears were engaged–but among our number were Andrew Cuomo and, on his lap, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo; Dan and Rhoda Glickman, Rhoda’s brother Mark, Ellen Hart Peña, the driver, several staffers, and me. (Laura had gone there separately. A good thing too, since one more person in the van, and it might have burst.) Conversation centered around Dick Morris. It was not a conversation I would like to have had recorded for posterity.
       When we reached the convention center, all of us spouses lost our principals, who were herded down to a holding room to watch the president’s speech, so that they could file onto the crowded podium immediately after it was finished. We were left abandoned in our sky box. There was quite a bit of grumbling about this, but what recourse did we have? The speech itself seemed interminable, but not ineffective. When various people we knew, people other than our spouses, appeared on the podium after the speech, our comments were rude and ungenerous. The dropping of balloons and mylar and confetti was spectacular. I missed hearing “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” a very uncool thing to admit, so please don’t repeat it.
       On to the dinner for DNC contributors. Our role at these sorts of gatherings is simply to show up. For people enthusiastic enough to contribute large sums of money to the Democratic Party, having dinner with Laura D’Andrea Tyson is a treat. Funny. Back before she had this job, I used to do it every night, and it didn’t seem like such a big deal.