Henry A. Kissinger does not do fund-raisers. Some maids do not do windows. In any job, however grubby, be it diplomacy or domestic service, you are allowed certain scruples. Kissinger does not do fund-raisers.
Still, the American Metternich could be found one night recently addressing the Maine Republican Party's legislative fund-raising dinner at the ultra-chic Portland Holiday Inn. About 500 people paid $35 apiece, and some of them were sporting enough to toss in an extra $100 for a chance to mingle with the great man at a pre-dinner reception.
Remarkably, it was the second time in three years that Kissinger had graced the Maine dinner. Part of the explanation is the award they give each year to a distinguished Maine Republican, honoring Kissinger's late patron, Nelson A. Rockefeller, a native of the state.
But most of it is that Hattie Bickmore, the Maine GOP chairman, has penetrated Kissinger's armor. She gives him her "poor little widow lady" routine; she vamps him outrageously, smooching him so enthusiastically that he feels called upon to say it is lucky his wife, Nancy, is not there to see it. And she appeals to his vanity. This year, she had him picked up at the airport in a Mercedes-Benz. "Ah, a white one," he was heard to murmur appreciatively. "That's nice."
Now, a Kissinger fund-raising speech is not your ordinary partisan stem-winder. For one hour the other night, he gave a thorough, analytical tour of the world -- emphasizing the Middle East and Soviet-American relations. It was undiluted Kissinger, worthy of the Council of Foreign Relations or any of those lecture engagements he does for five-figure fees. You could have heard a pin drop, so intently were the Maine Republicans listening and learning.
What strikes a reporter who has been rattling around in New England politics for about a week since that evening is that -- quite aside from Bickmore's sorcery with Kissinger -- it suits this region's notions of democracy perfectly for the former secretary of state to lecture on international relations at a legislative candidates' fund-raising dinner.
As the Maine Democrats would quickly point out, former Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie does the same thing for them.
But it goes beyond that. The gadgets of modern campaign technology -- the polls, computer letters and TV spots -- have made their inroads on the conduct of politics in New England, as elsewhere in America. But the birthplace of American democracy still manages to retain its custom of face-to-face dealings between its highest elected officials and the people.
Direct democracy flourishes here in a marvelously uninhibited and unaffected way. A few nights after the Kissinger dinner, I found myself following the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to a meeting of the Addison County Farm Bureau's legislative committee.
It was held at the Charter House in Middlebury, Vt., where the sign says that "On Sept. 30, 1798, Timothy Dwight, President of Yale, counseled with Gamaliel Painter and other citizens of Middlebury concerning the founding of Middlebury College....It led to the granting of the charter on Nov. 1, 1800." On this evening, seven candidates for the U.S. Senate, representing four parties, "counseled" with 11 members of the county Farm Bureau.
One of the seven candidates was the incumbent, Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R), the 69-year-old former county prosecutor, attorney general, lieutenant governor, governor, U.S. Representative and 11-year Senate veteran. The man who holds the committee gavel formerly yielded by Sen. Robert S. Kerr and other autocrats took his place at the table with his six challengers. He was given the same five minutes for opening comments as his rivals. He listened as quietly as they did as the aptly named Farm Bureau spokesman, Herbert S. Messenger, said that as a Republican, he thought the Reagan administration's dairy program was "a sham."
When Stafford got a chance to respond, he explained the legislative situation that led to passage of what he acknowledged to be an unsatisfactory dairy bill, at somewhat senatorial length. But Messenger broke in. "We don't like getting jerked around every time we have to train a new President," he said. "We're in this business for life, not a four-year term."
Stafford started a rejoinder but, admonished by a glance from the meeting's chairman, Paul Stone, said, "I guess I've used all my time."
He yielded to the man on his left, representing the tiny, left-wing Citizens Party, who argued that the farm problem was just a symptom of the corporate domination of American life which must be broken by the people.
He, too, got a respectful hearing from the serious-minded farmers, listening as intently as the Republicans in Maine had listened to Kissinger.
When people tell you that democracy is sick in this country, send them to New England. They still understand it here.