NY Times: Salahis dreadfully in violation of DC social norms
New York TimesEqually offensive to local sensibilities, by draping herself on local luminaries, Ms. Salahi turned the city’s eminences into red-carpet, flash-bulb fodder. That’s different from the traditional grip-and-grin line at White House holiday parties, a formal ritual overseen by staff members and memorialized by an official photographer
Regardless of the fact that they snuck past Secret Service and crashed a Presidential formal White House State dinner to which they had received no invitation, the Salahis have also offended local sensibilities, and broken the rules of the conservative political community of Washington, DC.
Draping herself on Vice President Joe Biden was vulgar and unseemly; a Hollywood move in a conservative and prestigious political town.
The Salahis were taken their Los Angeles party mentality to a place rich in governmental political history, and this has angered White House officials as much as any Secret Service security breach. The red-carpet walking the couple did raised eyebrows at the State dinner, and the plastering of the pictures on Facebook was cheap and common, and got them found out.
NY Times Dec. 10When Ms. Salahi sidled up to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., she was faking a friendship she didn’t have. She was also cutting ahead of thousands of people who spend years trying to win entry into gatherings of Washington’s elite.
SO far, the journey of Michaele andTareq Salahi from unknown arrivistes to notorious party crashers has focused on the apparent slipups of the Secret Service and the White House social secretary. But to fully grasp the ongoing conniption inspired by the episode, you need to understand that when Ms. Salahi strutted onto the South Lawn in that bright red lehenga, she and her husband breached far more than a secure perimeter.
They also trampled countless protocols that are the social, business and networking bedrock of official Washington. Essentially, the couple used the mixed martial arts approach to upward mobility in a town that still cherishes the Marquess of Queensberry rules. And it looks like the town will be spluttering about it for quite some time.
“Washington is a small ‘c’ conservative kind of society, in which people are aware of the traditions and boundaries of appropriate behavior,” said Wayne Berman, a Republican lobbyist. “It’s a city about rules, about conventions and if there’s no keg at the party, it doesn’t get crashed.”
Of course, if the Salahis had slipped past the bouncers at, say, P. Diddy’s birthday bash and then posted the evidence online, the feat would never have been noticed. But a magnetometer is not simply a velvet rope that beeps, and just because Washington has long been called Hollywood for ugly people doesn’t mean that what works in Hollywood — or New York, or anywhere else, for that matter — will work in Washington.
Any number of social strategies that succeed elsewhere will fail catastrophically here. Like feigned closeness. In Hollywood, it’s understood that when an agent says, “Tom is looking to take his career in a new direction,” the agent might never have met Tom Cruise, let alone know him well enough to call him by his first name. In Washington, there are legions of people who don’t even use the first or last name of the people who employ them.
“When I worked for Al Gore, I didn’t call him ‘Al’ or even ‘Mr. Gore,’ ” says Chris Lehane, a former spokesman for the ex-vice president. “He was Mr. Vice President. Even now I call him Mr. Vice President. There’s an element of decorum and formality in Washington, that I think stems from the fact that these are elected officials. And I think the Salahi incident rattled that sense of decorum.”
When Ms. Salahi sidled up to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., she was faking a friendship she didn’t have. She was also cutting ahead of thousands of people who spend years trying to win entry into gatherings of Washington’s elite.
“At most parties in New York or Los Angeles, a bouncer will make a snap decision about whether to let you in depending on your looks or some shtick that that sets you apart,” says Juleanna Glover, a Washington hostess and a founder of the Ashcroft Group, a legal and consulting firm. “In Washington, there are no snap decisions. It’s a lifetime of wise decisions that make it so that you receive a state dinner invitation.”
At bottom, Washington’s social economy is based on a currency all its own: power and the proximity to power. Unlike the currency of Manhattan (money) and the currency of Los Angeles (celebrity and or the ability to green light a project), the legal tender of the capital has more impact when displayed with a minimum of ostentation.
Consider the power wall, that collection of office photos of the subject in a chummy embrace with a president, a prime minister or some other V.I.P. A lot of power walls emphasize quantity, but the true influence maestros in the city understand that the smaller your power wall, the more power it conveys.
James Healey, a former administrative aide to Dan Rostenkowski, who for a time was the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, has just two photos in his office at Prime Policy Group, a lobbying firm. One is a shot of his former boss, emblazoned with the words, “To Jim, who started the engine and made the wheels turn.” The other shows Mr. Healey and Tip O’Neill, a former speaker of the House. It reads, “We had some really good times, didn’t we?”.
Mr. Healey said, “It shows I’ve got some history here.”
When the Salahis put their collection of digital snaps of the state dinner on Facebook, they flouted all the unwritten rules of power-wall etiquette. (Including a new one that nobody had thought to mention: Don’t put your power wall on Facebook.) As an enhancer of prestige, these photographic menageries always target a certain audience — constituents in the case of politicians, potential clients in the case of lobbyists. It tells those audiences, “I know how to get things done.”
But by putting their photos online, the Salahis weren’t taking aim at anyone, unless you consider the entire planet their target audience.