Late night points of order

AUTUMN marks the beginning of Washington's social season. That may not sound like big news, but that's the time of year when the style pages of the Washington Post run over with minutiae about individuals whose names are in the Green Book, which, according to the grapevine, is more prestigious than a big ad in the Yellow Pages. Old-timers in the nation's capital take all this high-society gadabouting with a grain of salt. So do historians, who simply fail to record the details of Cabinet members chitchatting over punch and fancy dips and pretzels in the Kennedy Center while normal people are at home in their 'jamas.

But newspapers -- well, they love this sort of high-priced sashaying of big names all over town. It's their sort of Washington version of a watered-down ``Dallas'' and ``Dynasty'' show. Even Washington television is trying to make a social-circuit scoop, with the local Metromedia station now using a Washington Post reporter to provide regular coverage about these little matters of state.

Frankly, I don't see what's so newsworthy in this celebrity ritual, especially when one has to get so dressed up to engage in such small talk. And sometimes the late-nighters go in for a costume party, requiring attendees to shell out good money for a disguise that's more expensive than the fancy outfit parents might buy for their first-born on Halloween.

It would be one thing if diplomats, congressmen, and Cabinet members used these social affairs to debate some critical matters of domestic and foreign policy. That, of course, was what was done by Nikita Khrushchev and Vice-President Richard Nixon on July 25, 1959, as they moseyed into the American National Exhibition in Moscow, sipping a little cup of Pepsi-Cola. Before long, the two were engaged in a good old-fashioned kitchen debate, shouting at each other about washing machines and military weapons.

Let's face it: That's what politics and diplomatic relations are all about. So let's hope this social season in Washington is marred by a few Democrats and Republicans arguing political fine points as they nibble on those little open-face sandwiches with the Spam on top.

Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.

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