John McCaslin
Was President Bush likened to ruthless killer Herod the Great during the Rev. Canon Michael Wyatt's sermon on Iraq at Washington National Cathedral? You sit in the pew and tell us. "I'm a student at George Mason University," Caleb Shoenhard wrote to Inside the Beltway. "On Sunday, Dec. 29, I attended the 11 a.m. service at Washington National Cathedral. In the sermon by the Rev. Canon Michael Wyatt, he compared President George W. Bush to Herod of the Bible. I found this startling and appalling." We've since obtained a published text of the homily by Wyatt, appointed director of religious education at the historic cathedral 18 months ago after holding similar Episcopal posts in Seattle and San Francisco. The cathedral was commissioned by President Washington in 1791. "The Church celebrated yesterday the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children Herod ordered slaughtered in an attempt to kill the newborn King of the Jews, Jesus," Wyatt said in his sermon. "The acknowledged good of a stable dynasty veiled a brutal and reprehensible fact, and for the sake of that perceived possible positive outcome, actual flesh was ripped open. The self-indulgence of the indolent is paid for out of the flesh of the innocents of the world, those powerless to defend themselves, except by acts of terror. "Our consuming and combative choices hack away at the fabric of life, and we are slashed and burned in return," he continued. "And if we answer, even sincerely, that we do not know on whose back we ride, that ignorance will not save us, and if we are lucky enough to die before the verdict comes in, that escape does not mean that we are numbered among the holy innocent. "For over a decade, the United States has held to an intensification of the U.N. sanctions on Iraq, blocking with its veto and entangling in debates any attempt to relieve that nation. As part of the 'dual-use' considerations of the sanctions, by which items which might conceivably be used for military purposes are kept out, equipment to repair Iraq's sewage plants have been held up." "This, of course, has meant an increase of cholera, typhoid and dysentery. But the necessary vaccines are also blocked, with the claim that they might be used to make biological weapons - a technically unlikely claim," Wyatt opined, pointing out that 25 percent of children in southern Iraq are chronically malnourished. "Is it better not to know about these Holy Innocents? By the grace of God, moments of brutality can become moments in which the powerful are forced into the most horrific knowledge of themselves by seeing their own violence and brought to repentance. We must see how flesh pays for our words if we are to change. The question remains, with whom do you identify - and if it is Herod, wail." TERRORIST GATHERING? "It sounds like maybe the FBI should show up and take a few of these people into custody," Rep. Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., tells Inside the Beltway. "If we are serious about stopping terrorism, we need to look at homegrown terrorists the same way we look at imported terrorists." He's referring to word from the Center for Consumer Freedom that California State University at Fresno will host a "Revolutionary Environmentalism" conference Feb. 13-14. The list of speakers reads like a "Who's Who" of environmental and animal-rights "criminal culture," charges the center, although one conference agenda says the event is a "dialogue between activists and academics." "On the contrary, the entire escapade looks like a one-sided, anti-intellectual exercise completely bereft of opposing viewpoints," says the center, pointing to speaker Paul Watson, among a dozen or so others. The center calls Watson "an animal rights terrorist on the high seas who is considered a fugitive from justice in at least two countries, (who) has sunk at least 10 ships, and told the 'Animal Rights 2002' conference, 'There's nothing wrong with being a terrorist, as long as you win.' " Also participating is Michigan State University sociology professor Rik Scarce, who "has spent time behind bars for refusing to tell a grand jury what he knows about the Earth Liberation Front and who argues in his book 'Eco-Warriors' that human extermination would be 'an environmental cure-all.' " Radical ELF members claimed responsibility for a recent arson attack at a Girard, Pa., auto dealership. The group's Web site said it specifically targeted sport utility vehicles in a fight "to remove the profit motive from the killing of the natural environment." The ELF members used jugs of gasoline to set ablaze several vehicles, FBI Special Agent Bob Rudge said. ELVIS LIVES Pombo had better watch it or he's going to have every Elvis Presley groupie in the country descending on Capitol Hill to see whether he's actually you-know-who in a congressman's suit. Pombo staffer Doug Heye recently asked whether we were aware that Elvis and Pombo were both born on Jan. 8. No, we had not realized that. And there are other eerie similarities between the King and the congressman: - Elvis collected automobiles, including a Pantera. Pombo owns a 1973 Pantera. - Elvis played race-car drivers in movies such as "Viva Las Vegas" and "Speedway." Last year, Pombo won the Washington Grand Prix celebrity race. - Elvis was a truck driver before becoming famous. Pombo is the only House member with a commercial trucking license. Can you see where we're going with this? - Elvis often wore a cowboy hat, like in the movie "Charro." Pombo is famous for wearing a cowboy hat (check out his official congressional photo). - Elvis was a favorite of law-enforcement officers and received several law-enforcement badges. Pombo also is a favorite of law-enforcement officers and has received myriad law-enforcement awards. - Elvis was featured on a U.S. postal stamp. As a congressman, Pombo votes on postal-related legislation. Now, hang onto your blue suede shoes - here's the most convincing proof that Elvis is roaming the hallowed hallways of Capitol Hill: - Elvis made an appointment with President Nixon on short notice. Pombo often meets with President Bush on short notice. Remember, you read it here first. SAVIOR AND SINNER Nearly 900 adult Americans were asked by political pollster Frank Luntz to name the "Greatest American of All Time." The top 10 vote-getters were Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Luntz says he isn't pulling our leg in revealing that Jesus Christ and Bill Clinton tied for 13th place, with 1 percent of the vote each. WHO'S RETIRING? House Majority Leader Dick Armey's retirement after 18 years on Capitol Hill didn't last very long. Yes, Armey will spend time fishing with his wife, Susan. Yes, he'll continue working on a compilation of his most famous quotations, titled "Armey's Axioms," scheduled for publication later this year. But Armey, the outspoken Texas Republican and chairman of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, has already joined join the law firm Piper Rudnick as senior policy adviser, splitting time between the firm's Washington and Dallas offices. Besides fishing, Armey is known for brokering peace between his party and Democrats. He'll work with the firm's federal-affairs and legislative group alongside another famous peacemaker, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine. "I appreciate the balance of Democrats and Republicans" in the firm, Armey notes, "and I'm really looking forward to working with Senator Mitchell." Mitchell's thoughts on working next to Armey? "Dick Armey is a superb politician," he says. "Every major piece of legislation that Congress has debated in the last 15 years has borne his imprint in one way or another, and he has brought a tough-minded sense of fairness and bipartisanship to the table when the importance of doing the right thing for the nation transcended the desire to score a partisan point." FISH TALE Three years ago, Armey took his two sons on a fishing trip. They sat on a boat on a lake in northern Minnesota for 13 hours. A cold rain was falling, and the three were miserably damp and chilled, fishing in waters infested with leeches. At that time Armey turned to his son David and said, "Women don't understand how much fun we're having." CAN'T STAND STILL President Bush made history in November 2002, only the third time in 35 such midterm elections that a president's party gained House seats. Now this same president, who doesn't need reminding that he lost the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election, has to find the key to get himself re-elected. Matthew Dowd, who headed up polling for the Bush campaign in 2000 and now runs the Republican National Committee's polling operation, told Inside the Beltway in a telephone interview that the increasingly important minority vote could make or break the president in the 2004 election. In fact, Dowd recently told the Republican Governors Association that Bush would risk losing his re-election bid by 3 million votes if he were to win the same percentage of white, black and Hispanic votes in 2004 as in 2000. "After the 2000 election, there has been substantial growth among Hispanics, in particular, and if we stay status quo, we will lose ground," Dowd explained. "We just can't stand still. We have to keep expanding the base because of the demographics - not only whites and African Americans, but women and other constituencies." That said, Dowd is upbeat about recent Republican gains among voters, especially Hispanics. "The GOP won 38 (percent) or 39 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2002, which is 3 or 4 points higher than in 2000," he notes. Another thing that bodes well for the future, Dowd says, is that Bush's approval ratings remain strong among Americans. "We're on the right track for 2004," Dowd says. HILL HEELS When it comes to lady lawmakers, don't expect a kinder, gentler body to take the oath of office in the new Congress "The women of the 108th Congress all but demand attention - a closer look, a closer scrutiny," says Congressional Quarterly Associate Editor Martha Angle. "These are not the somberly garbed, soft-spoken widows and place-warmers of an earlier era." What are these women, then? Outspoken and ambitious, she says, capturing a seat on Capitol Hill much the same way as their masculine colleagues: They won on their own. Among the women to keep a close eye on in the 108th Congress, says CQ's "Women in Power" special edition: Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who is emerging as a powerful partisan combatant; Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine an influential centrist and bipartisan broker; Rep. Deborah Pryce, centrist Ohio Republican and confidante of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert; and incoming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, a powerful fund-raiser and undeterred liberal. And, lest we forget, newly elected Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., who has every intention of using her Washington experience to rise near the top of the class. Dole happens to be the only woman to have won a Senate seat in November 2002. At the same time, there are seven newly elected congresswomen.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on Townhall.com and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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