Asked if he had come to Richard Viguerie's Independence Day celebration to see Interior Secretary James Watt get his in the dunking booth set up for that purpose, Peter Pover laughed and said, "No, I want to see him walk on water."
Pover, comptroller for the Heritage Foundation, ended up a little disappointed, and Watt ended up a little wet. The interior secretary, a frequent target of liberals and environmentalists, took a feisty five-minute stint in the dunking booth and landed in the water four times. The first to nail Watt was his 28-year-old personal secretary, Kittie Smith, who said between giggles that it was "well worth" the $1 she paid to get a crack at her boss.
Watt took the whole thing in tremendously good spirits, laughing, kicking water on would-be dunkers from his perch, and advising conservative direct-mail whiz Richard Viguerie, who followed Watt into the booth, to "hold your nose."
The merrymaking, organized at Viguerie's behest by his staff and the nonprofit Friends of Turkey Run Farm, was held for two causes the conservatives considered worthy: fund-raising for Turkey Run Farm, where the party was held, and celebrating the Fourth of July.
Allowed Watt: "I am just thrilled that conservatives can get together and just have some fun. We used to be just sticks in the mud."
Viguerie proposed the picnic four months ago as a way to raise money for Turkey Run Farm, now officially called Claude Moore Farm at Turkey Run. Watt cut off money for the park last year, and the park's wealthy McLean neighbors promptly formed a private foundation, Friends of Turkey Run Farm, to raise money to keep the park open. At the picnic, Watt praised the initiative and volunteerism the Friends were demonstrating, and defended cutting off funds to Turkey Run, saying, "This is a community park, and the federal government needs to spend money protecting the crown jewels of the nation, things of national significance."
The dunking booth was just one of the activities detailed in a printed four-page, red, white and blue program handed to the 1,700 folks who journeyed to Turkey Run at Viguerie's invitation, forked over $5, and were feted with 1,200 pounds of fresh roasted pork, 1,100 grilled franks, 900 burgers, coleslaw, applesauce, soft drinks, beer, music from three bands (the one playing bluegrass was called Gross National Product), the reenactment of a Revolutionary War battle (the Americans routed their British opposition), and a mock court-martial and hanging. Viguerie picked up the $30,000 tab for the party.
The outfit for the guests was jeans and hats; Viguerie wore a cowboy hat. Hobbyists in colonial garb mixed with the picnickers--one of them, claiming to be Ben Franklin, introduced himself to Watt and offered the opinion that it was "men like you who are the reason we've come so far." Watt turned grinning to reporters: "Is everybody getting that?" And then back to Franklin: "Could you say that again, only this time use my name?"
Aside from Franklin, the partiers looked like a conservative "Who's Who" of Washington's New Right--at least those who hadn't left town for the holiday weekend.
Danny Boggs, senior policy analyst to the White House on energy and the environment, was there, as was Lee Atwater, subbing for his boss, White House political specialist Ed Rollins, and Connie Marshner, chairman of the National Pro-Family Coalition. David Gergen, assistant to the president for communications, showed up just as the festivities were winding down, at 4:45 p.m.
Paul Weyrich, who heads the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, brought his family to the picnic but declined the honor of a seat in the dunking booth. "There'd be too many people waiting in line to do it," he said. His son, Pete, expressed disappointment at what he considered a missed opportunity to put a little pressure on his father. "I could've used it to bribe him for a bigger allowance," said Pete.
Viguerie's children did take a shot at sending their father into the cold water. Renee, 19, missed all three of her shots. But Viguerie's son Richard hit with two of three tennis ball bullets. Said the conservative fund-raiser of his time over the icy water: "It's not the highlight of the day, not the funnest part."
After the dunking, most of the crowd of parents and kids adjourned down a dirt path to a field in a remote part of Turkey Run, where weekend Revolutionary War hobbyists staged a reenactment of a battle, realistic in uniforms, dust, muskets, blue smoke and noise--if not in bullets. The Americans, who brought in a cannon, eventually overcame the British, who retreated in two orderly lines.
During the battle one of the British Red Coats "became unhinged," in the words of narrator and U.S. military historian Bob Wright, and deserted his fellow soldiers. The deserter, Michael E. Dumene, who in real life works as a historical interpreter at Ford's Theatre, was promptly captured by soldiers from 71st Scots Regiment, and after the battle he was court-martialed, sentenced and hanged for the amusement of the assembled conservative crowd. "You'll notice," one of the British officers told the audience between the sentencing and the hanging, "he was not found insane." There was enthusiastic cheering.
Viguerie didn't seem to take as much pleasure in the mock execution as the rest of the crowd. "It was very realistic. But I'm one of the very few conservatives who don't believe in capital punishment. It's too bad they had to do things like that."
In general, Viguerie thought the picnic "a success, 100 percent over. We were expecting 800 to 900 people and we got 1,500 to 1,700. Somebody suggested we make it an annual event, and I think that's a good idea. With a little advance planning, we should be able to accommodate 3,000 people next year."
And Viguerie said he "thought Jim Watt was a particularly good sport about being dunked. This administration could use a lot more people in it that had that attitude of getting down with the people."