In a private upstairs dining room Tuesday night in the Monocle restaurant on Capitol Hill, Susan McCue, chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, periodically checked her BlackBerry and kept the large table up to date on gubernatorial election returns from Virginia and New Jersey.
Democrats - and Republicans - strained to hear her updates.
For a few hours at least, on a rainy night in Washington, the two sides came together to share their personal thoughts on everything from the war in Iraq to the sharply divided Congress. Joining several lawmakers were political pollster Frank Luntz and a handful of pundits and columnists - even Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry dropped by.
And bringing them together, oddly enough, was the surviving half of TV's "The Odd Couple" - 83-year-old actor Jack Klugman.
"I represent a time when people were very, very happy," he told the table in a raspy voice twice invaded by cancer. "So many people come up to me and say: 'I sat on the sofa with my parents, and we laughed with you. And what great memories they are.'"
So, why isn't the country laughing anymore?
Invited politicians at the table took turns offering opinions. One well-known Republican congressman went so far as to criticize his own president for a recurring "message" perceived by many as: "Loyalty is more important than honesty or the truth."
Klugman took the opportunity to pass copies of his new book around the table, "Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship," featuring his late co-star Tony Randall. He described it as "a simple story about friendship itself - a small tale of two men who took fifty years to figure out why they came together."
He sees no reason that politicians - and Americans - can't do the same.
POOR AND PLUMP
Judging from the stack of correspondence in our mailbox - from as far away as Italy - Americans are indeed obsessed with food.
We'd written earlier about congressional passage of the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, which states that Americans ought to know when they've had their fill of cheeseburgers.
In other words, Congress finds that the quantity of food one shoves into his or her mouth comes down to "personal responsibility," especially in an age when "frivolous" lawsuits purporting "overconsumption" and "obesity" have run amok.
Miki Rosco, an Italian writer, was so intrigued by what she witnessed of America's food consumption that she penned an article for the October 2005 issue of Ulisse, the in-flight magazine of Alitalia Airlines.
"I first noticed it as a tourist in New York," she writes, "when I saw that the fast-food restaurants were full of incredibly fat (black) Americans, while Central Park was full of ultrafit whites clearly from the affluent part of society running along the park avenues in their costly attire."
As she concludes: "The poor are fat and the rich have become thin, another of the curious paradoxes of our time."
Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona says President Bush is welcome in his state, but not to stump on his behalf.
Interviewed on "Imus in the Morning" this week, the conservative congressman said "in one word: no," in response to whether he would want the president's help campaigning.
"I would welcome President Bush to Arizona . . . to see the problems the ranchers and the law-abiding citizens are having there," he said. "I would welcome President Bush to get tough on illegal immigration and to understand that what happens on the border of the United States and Mexico is just as important as what's happening on the border of Syria and Iraq. So I would welcome President Bush to come and get serious . . . toward illegal immigration."
Former Republican Michigan Gov. John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, says not to trust Congress when it says it's doing everything in its power to alleviate high energy costs and supply shortages.
For that matter, he calls Senate hearings on oil-company profits "theatrical exercise."
The NAM president points out that while other countries have been building energy infrastructures, the United States has "neglected it." Japan, for example, has 23 liquefied natural-gas terminals, compared to this country's four. And while France has constructed 58 nuclear power plants, generating 80 percent of the country's electricity, the U.S. hasn't ordered a new one since the 1970s.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"It is in the streets of the Parisian suburbs that one can now see the ultimate effects of multiculturalism - and sense a premonition of the dark and murderous future that lays ahead for Europe." - Robert Tracinski, Jewish World Review, Nov. 9
One well-known Washingtonian, who asks not to be identified, writes to The Beltway Beat: "We all know about the liberal bias that exists in our institutions of higher education, but somehow forget what the students who were run through the mill do after they graduate."
Perhaps they become teachers themselves?
"An eighth-grade history teacher . . . asked my daughter to write a paper about Ronald Reagan," he says. "My daughter, who shares the Gipper's birthday, was pleased to have him as her topic, but pointed out the teacher's suggestions that she focus on the oil crisis, the AIDS epidemic . . . and, of course, Iran-Contra.
"When a 13-year-old girl proclaims, 'They are all a bunch of liberals,' when she could be talking about her hair or new Ugg boots, you know it has gotten out of hand."