Very Bush. These words were used to describe the still-secret guest list for tonight's White House state dinner for Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev.
What does Very Bush -- used by an informed source -- mean?
It means some jocks, probably. It means some longtime Bush family friends. It means some captains of industry who have contributed to Republican campaigns. It means a couple of low-key celebrities -- usually of substance, not anyone, for instance, who has appeared on "Love Boat" or anything like "Love Boat." It means at least one famous talking head from TV news. It means several dignified, once well-known people unearthed from retirement. It means some of the congressional leadership. It means Chief of Staff John Sununu, most likely, and Vice President Dan Quayle and Secretary of State James Baker and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Chief of Protocol Joseph ("Ambassador Joe") Reed.
And, naturally, since it's a lovely, formal, peaceful, post-Cold War hot dinner for the president of the Soviet Union, it means the usual dour assortment of war experts from the Defense Department looking uncomfortable with either their rented tuxedos or glasnost or both.
Tonight there will be 130 guests for dinner. Another 30 or so have been invited for after-dinner champagne, entertainment -- a performance by opera singer Frederica von Stade -- and dancing.
"There are various recommendations for the list," says Ambassador Joe, "that come from all sources -- the State Department, National Security Council, Congressional Affairs and others. But it's entirely up to the president and Mrs. Bush."
Very Bush. Let's see. NBC anchor Tom Brokaw -- in Washington to cover the summit -- will be going to the dinner tonight with his wife, Meredith, according to his office. (Remember that long interview he had with Gorbachev?) Librarian of Congress James Billington will be going (he speaks fluent Russian) with his wife, Marjorie. Washington Post Publisher Donald Graham and his wife, Mary, will be going. And Time magazine columnist Hugh Sidey will be going with his wife, Anne.
"No comment," Sidey said yesterday when asked to confirm his dinner plans for tonight. "Oh, well. Why not? Yes, I'm going," he said boldly.
"I told my family, and I've said nothing to anyone else about it," he added. It's been "years" since he's been to a state dinner. There were Kennedy dinners. There were a couple with the Reagans. Was Sidey surprised to be asked? "I sure was."
Billington -- who's having Raisa Gorbachev to the Library of Congress this afternoon -- was part of the official delegation to the Moscow summit in 1988. The Reagans, he remembered, invited a good mix of Soviet cultural and political types for their reciprocal dinner there.
"It's unique to democratic societies to invite not just the aristocrats, but people from all areas," said Billington. "Back in the 19th century, the state dinners were very long and pompous affairs. But a state dinner in our kind of society -- particularly when you have people as relaxed and gracious as the Bushes -- are very interesting."
Morgan Freeman -- the Academy Award-winning star of "Driving Miss Daisy" -- is strongly rumored to be coming tonight, but could not be reached. Speaker of the House Tom Foley was invited to the dinner -- according to a spokeswoman in his office -- but is in Barbados with his wife, Heather, on a vacation that had been planned for months.
But House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt is coming with his wife, Jane. Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole will be coming with his wife, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, the secretary of labor. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell is coming, possibly with a date -- his office wasn't certain who. Senate Minority Leader Bob Michel is bringing his wife, Corinne. And there will be 14 members of the Soviet delegation, which includes the Gorbachevs.
Very Bush also means Very Un-Reagan. In those wild and glitzy Reagan days, an endless guest list for a state dinner would ricochet around the White House and State Department for weeks, landing eventually in the First Lady's office for the final edit and approval. Nancy Reagan made nips and tucks -- perhaps some snoozy defense types were removed. Perhaps more razzmatazz was added.
In this administration, President Bush does the final edit for all his dinners. Therefore it's fair to assume the evening should be more subdued than the last summit state dinner here in 1987 -- when Gorbachev wound up singing along to the Russian songs Van Cliburn played on the piano.
That was also the dinner that drew movie stars like Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert, musicians like jazzman Dave Brubeck and classical pianist Van Cliburn, athletes Joe DiMaggio, Chris Evert, Meadowlark Lemon and Mary Lou Retton.
And naturally, since it was a lovely, formal, Cold War hot dinner for the leader of the Soviet Union, the guest list also included Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb.