The New Cocktail Parties

A Good Word for Sally Quinn

(Flickr/Financial Times)

Jonathan Chait offers a cutting reply to Sally Quinn's now almost universally derided column on the decline of the Washington dinner party:

It’s certainly true that the Washington power structure no longer exists in quite the same way it once did, identifiable by its attendance at fashionable Georgetown dinner parties. But it’s also probably true that if such an identifiable elite did exist, they probably — to be perfectly brutal about it — wouldn’t be having dinner at Sally Quinn’s home all the time. People who make their social engagements solely on the basis of career advancement aren’t going to spend that much time currying favor with a man who retired two decades ago from the executive editorship of a newspaper that no longer carries the same cachet.

As Mrs. Chait has been known to say, "Ow, that's mean!"

Let's stipulate that the fate of the Republic does not turn on the state of Sally Quinn's social life. Stipulate too that there is something off-putting about the combination of entitlement and cluelessness that shoots through Quinn's essay. OK? OK.

That said:

The woman is perceiving something true. Over half a human lifetime, Washington has shifted from a city whose status hierarchy was dominated by official rank to one whose status hierarchy is determined almost entirely by money. A US senator is a smaller deal in the Washington of 2012 than his or her predecessor of 1972; a visiting billionaire a much bigger deal. Not that the senator has sunk to zero; not that the billionaire would not have been important in 1972; but the ratios have changed—and changed really quite dramatically. Sally Quinn may not be the most sympathetic observer of the trend, but she is surely one of the most authoritative. You don't have to like her piece to hear her message.