Washington— Here in the nation’s capital, mere hours after challenger John Kerry conceded the presidential election to incumbent George Bush, a benefit dinner to honor women in the cable business was declared an “election-free zone” where the only WMD being discussed was “women of marked distinction.”
That didn’t last long.
For one thing, when tired-looking friends greeted each other heading to their tables at the Washington Hilton, the “how are yous” were delivered with more feeling than usual. One of our reporters was told some Kerry supporters skipped the event because they weren’t ready to face the public yet. But plenty did show up, based on reactions (or non-reactions) to applause lines.
Samantha Bee, a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, said an apple martini helped her defeat late-election-night fatigue. Between polls closing and concession calls, though, was a period of uncertainty. “Would it be the Castro-loving paradise of perverted French limousine liberals that Kerry offered us?” she asked. “Or would it be a color-coded, gun-totin’ dystopia of ever-shrinking civil rights?” Uncomfortable laughter and applause ensued.
Bee also brought along a Daily Show segment with a slim election hook — it was about same-sex penguin pairs at the Central Park Zoo — that had the principal effect of setting up Comcast Cable CEO Steve Burke for the night’s best ad lib. The tuxedoed executive came out next to introduce an Accolade honoree, Comcast customer service senior VP Suzanne Keenan, and said: “I’m really honored to be here as the seventh speaker of the night — and the first penguin.”
The night’s last speaker (I’d lost count by then) was MTV Networks chairman and CEO Judy McGrath, who was the Women in Cable & Telecommunications Woman of the Year. She got a nice reaction when she said “women will inevitably share the power, and the presidency.” (Looking ahead to Hillary Clinton in ’08 maybe?)
Then she talked about how women should help “cast out the enshrined mythologies that still stifle much of corporate life.” Like that a suit makes you more powerful. “Or that young adults will not in fact rock the vote. And yes, they in fact did just that. They increased their share of vote in the battleground states, they kept pace with the record turnout, they exceeded our goal of 20 million, and will always be the catalyst for the future that MTV Networks believes them to be. We’ll never give up on them.”
Somehow I think that line would have gotten a big reaction, too, had the election ended up differently — and more of those 20 million votes cast by Americans ages 18 to 29 had gone to Kerry. Exit polls showed that group voted for Kerry by about a 55% to 45% margin, according to reports.
One thing’s for sure. Next year’s gala won’t be held the night after a close presidential election. And while the penguins will be back, the red cocktail dresses and bow ties worn in solidarity with WICT’s pay-equity campaign won’t make anyone think of states on a map.