Assessing the Dukakis Style If the White House Is Home

Oxymoron--a figure of speech in which opposite ideas are combined.

Welcome to the era of Dukakis Style.

"That's like saying airline food. Or military intelligence," one political observer here quipped.

Pack away the Lenox china (remember that Nancy Reagan's cost nearly $1,000 per place setting), push those Adolfos to the back of the closet and take those Hollywood types off the guest list.

But California Democrats--except for the short Georgian Era, shut out of the White House for 20 years--are yearning to get back on that White House invitation list, even though parties will be sensible (like Oxford shoes), issue-oriented (like Birkenstock sandals) and frugal (perhaps like the Boston-based Filene's department store).

Which brings to mind the current joke making the rounds. What makes Michael Dukakis cry? When he meets someone who buys retail.

It indeed will be different at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, if Dukakis wins in November. "Maybe you can go to the White House party straight from work," joked Marsha Kwalwasser, an aide to California Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp.

Agreeing that a First Couple bring a certain ambiance to D.C., San Francisco socialite Ann Getty (a terrific fund-raiser for Democrats) said not to expect classic New England style because Dukakis is a second-generation American. But, she added, the Dukakis White House style will also be set by the people he brings to Washington. (So maybe there will be biscuits and sherry, like a Harvard house master's afternoon tea.)

AFL-CIO Los Angeles County chief Bill Robertson, stunning in a white cotton suit and white shirt, said: "His entertaining will be down to earth, nothing--I don't want to use the word, but--decadent. It will be a real contrast with the Reagans. No 'show time.' " Dukakis, according to the few Hollywood types here, has made a conscious effort not to involve any new stars or talent in the campaign. And that approach is expected to remain the same.

White House entertaining, many agreed, would be as sculpted by Kitty Dukakis as was the Reagan style by Nancy. Robertson was clear that a "lot of parties will deal with issues or causes." Kitty Dukakis, several delegates pointed out, has always been involved in causes and projects--especially now with refugees. So look for parties that spotlight her particular penchants.

But, as Lacy Gage, a longtime political operative and wife of Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Mike Gage, pointed out, "political hostesses who are outstanding entertainers have been wives who made being wives a profession." And Kitty Dukakis has always had a professional life of her own.

For some, though, the entertaining forecast was still in doubt. State Sen. John Garamendi, asked about Dukakis' style, shook his preppy-style haircut and muttered: "I haven't the foggiest."

And then there was one cynic, who when asked about Dukakis, finally blurted out, "The Dukakis what?"

STYLISH SHORENSTEIN--Walter Shorenstein is "one class act" the crowd at the Carter Center on Monday night agreed. And what a crowd--including appearances by almost-veep nominee Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, former First Couple Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter (who are indeed everywhere this week), issue-oriented actors like Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson, rainmakers like Steve and Kitty Moses (explaining that they had hoped they would be at the convention as part of a push for Sen. Albert Gore for veep), young Joe Alioto. and happy political families like Rep. Nancy Pelosi with her husband, Paul, daughter, Nancy, son, Paul Jr.

Katharine Graham, chairman of the board of the Washington Post Company, stopped Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr. with some probing questions about what went on in the closed meeting between Dukakis and Jesse Jackson. When Brown was forthcoming with details, she interrupted him and called through the cocktail party crowd, "Rick, Rick," then introduced Richard Smith, the editor-in-chief of Newsweek. "Now, Willie, will you please begin again?" she asked.

STRANGE ENCOUNTERS--Seems like every California Democrat was at the Hilton poolside Tuesday morning, including the hosts, former Gov. Pat Brown and former Gov. Jerry Brown. All for the impending candidacy (for a state constitutional office) of their daughter-sister, Kathleen Brown. So it was Atty. Gen. Van de Kamp, his chief deputy, Barbara Johnson, Sen. John and Kathinka Tunney, Westside activist Mimi West, Assemblyman Mike Roos, Rep. Mel Levine and longtime Democrat activist Carmen Warshaw all standing around talking convention politics. (Warshaw said she'd been to the last 11.)

There was also part of the newer wave, like Marlene Saritsky, exec of the Hollywood Women's Political Committee, who said that at least 10 of the committee's members are at the convention, including the program's associate producer, Patricia Duff Medavoy, and attorney Bonnie Reiss.

A major focus of conversation was the sartorial splendor of the junior former Gov. Brown, who, even in the approaching-100-degrees heat, never loosened his tie nor unbuttoned his coat. Brown said he was finishing his book (which he would not discuss) and that he planned to be working hard on it until the end of the year. "Same old Jerry," labor chief Robertson commented. "He'd run for office if he got the right spot."

Of course. This is politics.

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