They lionized him for eight years running, made him the toast of two administrations and last night they were at it again.
Henry Kissinger, the secret swinger who went on to become secretary of State, was back among his social roots.
The excuse was the second publication party in less than a week for Kissinger's new book, "White House Years." Longtime friends with Kissinger from their days together on Nelson Rockefeller's bandwagon, Tom and Joan Braden, gave the party at their Chevy Chase home.
It was "Henry's list," according to Joan Braden, who drew from it to reach into Kissinger's social as well as political past. Not that the two were necessarily distinct.
Or as Kissinger himself puts it in his book: "Everyone at the higher levels of government meets constantly in the interminable conferences by which government runs itself; they then encounter the same people in the evening together with a sprinkling of senior journalists, socially adept and powerful members of Congress and the few members of te permanent Washington Establishment."
All these categories were represented last night plus one for comic relief -- Danny Kaye whose piercing whistle near the end of the party alerted those going on to Joseph Alsop's dinner party for Kissinger that time was running out.
"I was a baby when I came here," Kissinger insisted not too convincingly. "I didn't know a thing about social life in Washington."
It didn't take him long to find out, of course. And after one or two permissible gaffs, like holding up an Alsop dinner party an hour and a half ("Would you recommend that to a new man in Washington?" Kissinger asked, arching his eyebrows), the then-new national security adviser to the then-new president quickly became a Georgetown hostess' dream.
"Those were the days," recalled Margot Hahn, one discerning hostess who could spot a good dinner guest when she saw one, "when not many people around were quick or funny. They ate on plates divided into three sections, you know."
For Kissinger, unlike others in the Nixon administration, going to parties was no sacrifice at all.
"I generally liked the people. I didn't do it as a strategy. These people became personal friends of mine."
Much to the chagrin of the aloof, unsociable Nixon White House whose habits in those early days were not unlike the first months of the Carter administration, Kissinger said. "Many similarities. Both had semi-siege mentalities."
Then one night almost exactly 10 years ago a young Washington Post reporter asked Kissinger at a party if he was a swinger.
"'Look,' I told her, 'I can't admit that I'm a swinger without getting into trouble. I can't admit that I'm not a swinger, so why don't we say I'm a secret swinger?'"
It still cracks up Nancy Kissinger, who married him in 1974.
"Henry's so square," she said. "He's always been square."
Fellow author Herman Wouk told Kissinger that swinging certainly wasn't something he knew about but that anyway, Kissinger had joined the literary world now.
"I've found," Kissinger replied, thinking of his second volume of White House memoirs due to be published in 1981, "that the next book is really a psychic effort."
The present book was also somewhat of a physical effort (it weighs four pounds) for several in the crowd of nearly 100 who brought along copies to be signed. When Kissinger saw the one TV correspondent Marvin Kalb held out, he told him to give it to someone.
"I signed one for you today. I said 'To Marvin Kalb, who thinks he understands this period better.' In fact," Kissinger told Danish Ambasdor Otto Rose Borch, "I was going to call my book 'Kalb.' Kalb called his book 'kissinger.'"
Replied Kalb: "I reviewed mine this afternoon after reading yours and yours isn't a bad rewrite."
Others from "Henry's list" last night included the Carter administration's special Mideast envoy Robert Strauss ("Kissinger is like sinus -- I've had it forever"); the ambassadors of Great Britain, Israel, Sweden and Japan; World Bank President Robert McNamara; former CIA director Richard Helms; former Federal Reserve Board chairman Arthur Burns; AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Lane Kirkland; Evangeline Bruce; Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker; Ambassador Carol Laise; NBC's David Brinkley; columnist Rowland Evans, and New Republic publisher Martin Peretz.
"I was in an international relations class Kissinger taught at Harvard," said Peretz. "I always remembered that one of his rules of international politics was that the party everybody thinks is crazy has the greatest advantage."