Dick's Ready

John McCaslin
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Posted: Dec 16, 2003 12:00 AM

He might not be leading in the polls, but Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri was the first of the Democratic presidential wannabes to issue a statement Sunday on the capture of Saddam Hussein. And for good reason.

Unlike the other contenders, Gephardt all but embraced President Bush's mission in Iraq. And now, says the Missouri Democrat, it's time for him to finish what Bush started.

"I supported this effort in Iraq without regard for the political consequences because it was the right thing to do. I still feel that way now, and today is a major step toward stabilizing Iraq and building a new democracy," said Gephardt, who was told of Saddam's capture when waking up Sunday in Sumter, S.C.

But he cautions that the war on terrorism is in its early stages.

"For many years, we will be confronted with a war on terrorism that is unfinished," says the former House minority leader. "This will be a long and difficult struggle, and we need a president who has the credibility to unite the American people and our allies in an effort to make our nation and our world safe."

Referring to himself, of course.

PATRIOT GAMES

Outspoken Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox Sports celebrity Terry Bradshaw, caught up in the jubilation over the capture of Saddam Hussein, stared into the camera while signing off of Sunday's football broadcast and declared: "Osama, my friend, you're next."

BAD SANTA

Learning of the capture of Saddam Hussein, Thea King of Baltimore caused fellow employees to burst out laughing when she said: "He looks just like the Unabomber!"

In fact, if juxtaposing photos of Saddam when he was captured with photos of hermit Ted Kaczynski after he was nabbed at his Montana hideout, the two grizzled men appear to be one and the same.

Meanwhile, catching his first sight of the former Iraqi president as his bearded, bewildered picture was flashed across the TV screen during Sunday brunch at Vermillion in Alexandria, Va. lawyer David D. Hudgins shouted for all to hear: "Bad Santa!"

DRESSING ARNOLD

"It's been like drinking out of a fire hose the last few weeks," former Capitol Hill aide Vince Sollitto, deputy press secretary to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, tells this column.

"The media attention has been immense, one of those rare synergies where the political media, the California entertainment media and the international media have all converged," he says, noting that "the media pools and number of cameras for the swearing-in ceremony were even more than at the presidential level."

Sollitto and his staff ought to know. Schwarzenegger's chief press secretary, Margita Thompson, previously worked in the White House press office under President Bush. Her deputy, Ashley Snee, also worked in the Bush White House.

Sollitto most recently served on the House Homeland Security Committee before making the switch from Capitol Hill to Sacramento. And how does California's state capital compare with the nation's capital?

Replies Sollitto: "I'm not used to reading pool reports of which the last line is, 'The governor wore a charcoal gray suit from Prada with boots and a large blue ring.'"

GOD AND GIPPER

We've just reviewed an uncorrected proof of "God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life" (Regan Books), in which presidential historian and author Paul Kengor argues that the former president, albeit privately, embraced Christianity with fervor.

Kengor says Reagan kept his personal religious beliefs - shaped in his childhood by his Protestant mother, Nelle Reagan, and retained with extraordinary consistency - relatively quiet while in public life. But eventually his religious framework became a presidential one that ran head-on with the anti-religious regime in Moscow.

The author says nothing more strongly clashed with Reagan's belief system than Soviet communism, believing that the United States was a divinely ordained beacon of freedom. That conviction compelled the former president to a series of challenges that would eventually bring down the Iron Curtain.

When he took the oath of office as the 40th president, Kengor recalls, Reagan chose to use Nelle's old wrinkled Bible, opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, her favorite verse and one her son treasured equally: "If my people, which are called by name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

Reveals Kengor: "The Bible Reagan used at the Inauguration bore an annotation next to the verse, in Nelle's hand: 'A most wonderful verse for the healing of a nation.'"

BROTHERS OF SORTS

Thus far, the 2004 presidential debates have been all about the Democrats.

Now we learn from the Rev. David M. O'Connell, president of the Catholic University of America, that two Catholic alumni - Edward Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee - will engage in a debate hosted by the university on March 18.

It will be the first time that the two leaders of their respective parties have met for a debate. George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's "This Week," will moderate.

"We're delighted Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Gillespie will return to their alma mater to debate issues of national importance as the 2004 presidential race intensifies and as voters begin to focus more attention on the upcoming election," says Father O'Connell.

"It promises to be a great learning experience for our students and a thrill for our alumni, especially those who were classmates of these leaders."

Gillespie graduated from Catholic in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in politics. He was elected chairman of the Republic National Committee in July of this year. McAuliffe, who earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1979, was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in February 2001.

HIGH ROAD

"Just because Washington is being ridiculous doesn't mean we have to be."

Or so reads an editorial in Canada's National Post, surrounding the newly declared "Iraq (bidding) war."

"Magnanimity in victory is laudible," the editors write. "Unfortunately, when it comes to awarding infrastructure contracts in post-Saddam Iraq, Washington isn't displaying much of it."

Still, the Canadians concur that "from a moral point of view, there is some basis to the exclusion: Having refused to risk our soldiers for the liberation of Iraq, it is perhaps fitting that we will profit little from the industrial boom taking place in its wake."

LETTER OF THE WEEK

"I just received a letter from former Washington Post writer Ann O'Hanlon this afternoon. She is now (with) NARAL Pro-Choice America," writes Matt Waters, vice president of public education and development for Care Net, Pro-Life Ministry of Pregnancy Centers.

"But what I thought was amusing was her choice of words, that as she builds a pro-choice caucus and rapidly growing membership, she says these efforts are 'just our baby steps!' My question is, what in Toledo does NARAL know about 'baby' steps?"

NARAL is formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.