"Leon is the only expert on nuclear policy who wears Armani clothes," New Republic publisher James K. Glassman said. "And I know because I shop with him."
Leon Wieseltier was wearing Armani last night at the party for his new book, "Nuclear War, Nuclear Peace." Henry Kissinger was wearing blue pin stripes, and the "I think I know a friend of yours from Harvard" crowd was wearing khakis and oxford cloth.
Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, said he hadn't always been an Armani aficionado.
"I wore a yarmulke until senior year in college," he said. "I was a yeshiva boy. I went to Columbia, then studied in Oxford, then at Harvard, where I was a member of the Society of Fellows, one of the most horribly elitist organizations in the world. Now I'm in the middle of writing a book on the interpretation of catastrophe in the medieval Jewish community."
Wieseltier said he never thought his first book would be about nuclear policy but "a responsible intellectual has to think about nuclear weapons."
So Wieseltier wrote a very long article in The New Republic that then became a very short book. And last night Kissinger, Ben Wattenberg, Reps. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) and Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) and about 40 others came to a cocktail party at The Palm to congratulate him and munch on shrimp, oysters, and potato chips kept warm in a chafing dish.
"Intellectual life has been organized into gangs . . . I can't stand that way of operating," Wieseltier said. "It's not intellectually honest. There is no contradiction between being anticommunist and having a serious commitment to arms control--none. The debate has been rigged.
"Too many liberals, because they believe devoutly in deterrence, cannot think about what will happen when deterrence fails."
Doesn't he mean "if," not "when"?
"My belief is that sooner or later nuclear weapons will be used. History has shown that people are stupid and no weapon has ever existed and not been used. Of course, that comes from a very dim view of human nature."
For the first hour, the talk was all of Kissinger. Someone had called that morning to say he was coming. Was it his office, or was it a hoax?
It was his office.
When Kissinger entered the room, British journalist Peter Pringle said, "The smaller the book, the bigger the patron."
"It's the first book that can fit on a bumper sticker," quipped Christopher Hitchens, Washington editor for The Nation.
" 'I brake for deterrence,' " New Republic editor Hendrik Hertzberg topped.
Across the room Michael Kinsley, the former editor of Harper's who has just begun as The New Republic's TRB columnist, was telling an assistant editor from Harper's, Jeff Morley, "Here's someone who wants to meet you more than she wants to meet Henry Kissinger."
Kissinger liked the book so much he agreed to be quoted on the dust jacket. At the party, he said yes, he liked the book, and then repeated his praise, word for word.
In his book, published under The New Republic imprint, Wieseltier said nuclear arms control talks must continue whether or not we approve of the Soviets' behavior. Kissinger agreed.
And the shooting of Flight 007?
"The shooting down was a callous act but the Soviet reaction to it bothered me more," Kissinger said.
"It was very cynical," Wieseltier said. "When I read the explanation from the Tass article--and I don't use this analogy frequently--it really reminded me of Goebbels."