Rough Week, Alberto? You Could Say That

If you run into Gonzales tonight at the White House Correspondents' dinner (your invitation came, right?), try to say something nice to him, will ya?
If you run into Gonzales tonight at the White House Correspondents' dinner (your invitation came, right?), try to say something nice to him, will ya? (By Brendan Smialowski -- Getty Images)

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By Sridhar Pappu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 21, 2007

You certainly couldn't blame Attorney General Alberto Gonzales if he chose to skip the celebrity-journalist-politician jumble that is tonight's White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Indeed, anyone who suffered through hours of testimony on Thursday in which both Republican and Democratic senators pounced on you as if you were an African gazelle would be forgiven for choosing to stay at home with a tub of Ben & Jerry's, watching a Bravo marathon of "Top Chef."

But, as of this writing, Gonzales will attend as a guest of USA Today. Perhaps he'll be following the example of Molly Ringwald's character in "Pretty in Pink," who, having been dumped by Andrew McCarthy and humiliated in the hallways of school, comes to the prom anyway. There she reclaims her dignity in a killer home-stitched dress and wins back the guy.

Okay, it's doubtful that Gonzales can follow in Ringwald's footsteps and win back a town that's turned its collective back on him. But give the man props for planning to show up. And as uncomfortable as Gonzales might be in a crowd of wonks fawning over Morgan Fairchild, Reggie Bush, Valerie Bertinelli and Sanjaya, his fellow attendees could also use some help. What do you say to the embattled AG should both of you be stuck in same hallway, trying to move between pre-parties? What do you do if you look up from your dinner roll to see Gonzales passing the butter? What, to paraphrase those singing nuns from "The Sound of Music," do you do with a problem like Alberto?

So, as a service to those in attendance tonight, we've come up with a few rules to minimize the awkwardness.

"Say you're a casual guest," says Lanny Davis, special counsel to Bill Clinton from 1996 to 1998, and a key figure during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. "Gonzales is in the center of controversy, where I often was. I know how he's going to feel. I'm gonna be there [Saturday] night and if I see him I'm going to say, 'You must have had a tough week. Hang in there.' "

Ann Hand, the jewelry designer and the wife of LBJ's former protocol chief Lloyd Hand, says to make sure to address Gonzales as "Mr. Attorney General." And should you see him standing in the corner, don't be afraid to approach.

"If he's standing there," Hand says, "I wouldn't be hesitant to say, 'Hello, how are you?' "

The crowded corridors and party suites are one thing. The dinner is something else entirely. While most of the people we spoke to suggested talking about other topics (namely the weather), leaving his troubles an entirely untouched subject could make things even more awkward.

Kathy Kemper, who has been a tennis coach for four presidents and six secretaries of state, says she would "feel him out a little bit to see if he was interested in sharing his thoughts and reactions of his testimony."

"You never know," Kemper adds. "Sometimes someone has a bone to pick and wants to tell their side of the story and chat for hours. Other times the person just wants to talk about their kids or their dog. But to avoid the subject entirely is like having a black cloud hanging over the table."

The main thing, several people said, is to show Gonzales a li'l bit of lovin', regardless of your opinion of his performance as attorney general. To sheathe one's dagger, if only for the night, reveals not cowardice but the strength of one's social grace.

"The one thing I've learned over the years is to reach out to people and be their friend," says Debbie Dingell, wife of longtime Michigan congressman John Dingell. "My rule is to treat everyone like a friend."


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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