The president of the United States introduced him, the bank played "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You," and Robert Strauss, in his fine Texas roll, said;
"Fellow Democrats and Republicans -- I accept your nomination."
An explosion of laughter. Then 2,000 hands clapped. A while back he'd said: "It's not so much the narcotic of applause. It's the narcotic of power."
Power: Last night, in a gargantuan ballroom of the Sheraton Washington, 1,000 Democrats, Republicans, friends and onetime foes -- from President Jimmy Carter to Vice President Walter Mondale to Vice President-elect George Bush -- came to a tribute in honor of the man who was not so much Carter's campaign chairman as kingpin of party politics.
"A Disraeli with a Rolodex," said Mondale.
"Lovable, too," said Lady Bird Johnson.
"Both parties can be thankful that in this nation of ours, there is one Robert Strauss," said the president. That was the serious part. "My hope," Carter had said a little earlier, "was to serve a second term as president, and then go back to Plains and retire." Short pause for effect here. "Bob," continued the president, "has helped me achieve one of those goals."
Strauss, the former Mideast negotiator and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has long wanted to be known as America's greatest political practitioner. Carter's defeat has taken that from him, but last night, looking out over the span of the ballroom, you got a sense of irrepressibility. Bob Strauss just won't go away.
Two weeks ago, he was the lone Carterite invited to a party for Ronald Reagan at George Will's house. That's when he made friends with presidential counselor Ed Meese. Then last night at the Sheraton Washington, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) turned up. A year ago, Strauss was raising millions to beat him.
"We've had our differences," said Kennedy. "But we're basically now at a time when we need to come together."
Said Strauss: "I didn't know he was coming."
The dinner, at $1,000 a head, benefited the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. This meant you heard a Texas drawl about every other bourbon glass at the before-dinner reception.
There were plenty of other states, too.
From New York, Gov. Hugh Carey: "Bob Strauss' first words, when he was born in the bassinet, or maybe it was the bullrushes, were -- 'Where's the votes?' Or better yet -- 'Where's the money? I'll find the votes.'"
From California, State Party Chairman Dick O'Neill: "I remember when he was party chairman, he sent me a letter asking me for money. I guess it was '74 or '75. And as soon as he got my $500, he called me back, and then he sent me a letter saying he was so overwhelmed by my check. But he didn't know me from Adam. I don't know why I sent him my money, because I'd never sent my money to the national party before. Or since."
Aside from politicians, the dinner was loaded with corporation executives, most of the White House senior staffers, three cabinet secretaries (Labor's Ray Marshall, HUD's Moon Landrieu, Education's Shirley Hufstedler), and at least one dancer. This was Ann Reinking, star of the movie "All That Jazz" and friend of Herbert Allen, a New York businessman who knows Strauss. You got the idea last night that just about everybody knows Strauss.
"I think he makes a big deal over everybody he meets," said Reinking, who found herself sitting next to Carter at dinner. "That's why everybody thinks they're a friend of his. He tells me I'm almost as nice as his wife." t
Strauss himself looked as pleased as a purring house cat. But somehow, just a bit of the usual cockiness was gone. His eyes were warm, even moist. They saw a ballroom stuffed with 1,000 friends, a president, a vice president, a vice president-elect, people who've known him for scores of years.
Not quite a year ago he told a reporter: "I kid a lot, but I don't kid myself. I know how easy it would be to lose this thing, if not to Kennedy then to a strong Republican candidate if they're smart enough to nominate one. I also know what that would do to me and my reputation. The shelf life of a boy wonder in this business is about the same as fresh green grapes. That's why I want to win it. Then I can devote the rest of my life to getting even at the racetrack."