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Love in the Time of Obama
Sam Kass and Alex Wagner are part of an American aristocracy clueless that it’s a class.

Alex Wagner (left) and Sam Kass

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Matthew Continetti

The first time he saw her from a distance. She was a reporter, observing his workplace from the outside. He was struck by her good looks, her energy. He mentioned her to a friend, who told him she was out of his league. But he persisted. His friend brought him to a party where he found an opportunity to strike up a conversation with her. One thing led to another. He took her to drinks. She mentioned she liked baseball, rooted for the Washington Nationals. They had that in common. So for their next date he took her to play catch. In Nationals Park. When it was closed to the public.

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Not an ordinary love story. But then these are not ordinary lovers. He is Sam Kass, executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move health initiative, senior policy adviser for nutrition policy, and food-initiative coordinator in Barack Obama’s White House. She is Alex Wagner, host of Now with Alex Wagner on MSNBC, weekdays at 4 p.m. Kass’s friend is Richard Wolffe, the executive editor of MSNBC.com, a political analyst for MSNBC, and the author of Renegade: The Making of the President, Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House, and The Message: The Reselling of President Obama. The shindig where the couple started talking was MSNBC’s annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner after-party, the invitation-only event where Rachel Maddow mixes cocktails to demonstrate her working girl credentials. The bar where Kass and Wagner had drinks was Monkey Bar, in midtown Manhattan, where you can pair a $17 glass of Sauvignon Blanc with a $26 organic chicken paillard. They are planning a summer wedding.                                          

I learned all of these details in the February issue of Vogue, in an article with this stammering headline: “The Talk of the Town: Alex Wagner and Sam Kass — Politics’ It Couple.” The article was written by Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group. According to his biography on the Leigh Speakers Bureau website, Weisberg is “one of America’s most prominent writers on politics and policy,” which pretty much says it all about the state of American writing on politics and policy.

Weisberg was last spotted in the pages of the New York Times Book Review, screaming at Roger Ailes to get off his lawn. For two decades, Weisberg and his wife have owned a weekend house in Garrison, N.Y., which they love “for its scenic beauty, its peace and quiet, and its old-fashioned sense of community . . . it’s a refuge from the pace of city life, a place with an easygoing mix of lifestyles and a widely shared ethos about preserving what makes it special.” Putnam County, where Garrison is located, is 94 percent white and has a median income of $95,000. Then Ailes showed up and ruined the place.

A similar insularity and self-satisfaction, a stubborn refusal to ascribe rationality or good faith to those outside the circle of friendship, can be found in Weisberg’s article in Vogue. The pages of Democratic donor Anna Wintour’s magazine provide him sturdy journalistic ground. Unlike his Times review, or indeed the book in the Times he was reviewing, Weisberg in Vogue actually had access to his subjects. And such access: a perfume of casual friendliness, of smarmy knowingness, sticks to these glossy pages, making them indistinguishable from an ad for Quelques Fleurs. Weisberg likes these people. He finds them intelligent, accomplished, sophisticated, current, fashionable, tasteful, humble. “I’ve been a guest several times” on Wagner’s show, he tells us in an aside, but it’s not like he wants to be invited back or anything. “On good days, the conversation just clicks.” Conversation does click when no one disagrees, when no one is disagreeable. Click is a good word to describe the old Now, where five liberals sat around a table attempting to out-snark each other.

Click may be a good word for the show, but “clique” is a better one for the world described in Vogue. On the first read the Weisberg piece is notable for its status details: the little things, the style of life of bobo liberals that drives conservatives crazy. I am referring here to the meal Weisberg shares with the couple in Kass’s sure-to-be-expensive Logan Circle townhouse: “butterflied roast chicken with tarragon and preserved lemons, faro risotto with wild mushrooms and leeks, and a green salad with buttermilk dressing” served with a Barbaresco made by friends in Italy. I am referring to Kass’s “hand-forged Carter Cutlery knives, which are produced by a Japanese-trained bladesmith in Oregon.” To the Hermès coat, Nili Lotan sweater, 7 for All Mankind jeans, Hunter + Rag & Bone boots, M Missoni dress, and Prada flats that Wagner wears at various moments in the piece. To the names checked by Weisberg to establish the fact that Wagner is with it, au courant, hip, cutting edge:  This Town author Mark Leibovich, Ezra Klein, Jonathan Franzen, Frank Ocean, the Tanlines, and New York restaurants Blue HillCarboneFranny’s, and Vinegar Hill House.



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