Confusing coin

John McCaslin
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Posted: Mar 18, 2004 12:00 AM

Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle's bill proposing the creation of a nearly pure gold investment-grade bullion coin honoring presidential first ladies - on the front of the coin would be a likeness of the spouse, her terms of service and the order in which she served - could be more trouble than it's worth.

"Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Chester A. Arthur were widowers when they served their presidential terms," notes reader J. Keen Holland. "Will the coins feature their late wives or the women who presided over White House social functions for them respectively - a daughter, niece and sister?

"John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson were both widowed and remarried while serving as president. Will the series feature both wives for each of them?" he asked. "Should Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's coin identify her as 'co-president' in line with the Clintons' pledge to be a two-fer?

"I suspect Congressman Castle will rue the day he ever opened up this can of worms."

THE BUSHES

Former President George Bush opposed his son's plan to attack Iraq because of a lack of an "exit strategy," which has come back to haunt the current President Bush.

So it is written in "The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty," by Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, a forthcoming book based on more than 60 hours of interviews with members of the Bush clan, including the former president and son Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The elder Bush had voiced concerns about his son going to war with Iraq to his sister, Nancy Ellis, according to Schweizer, who is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution (Schweizer is a media consultant).

Bush's former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, worried publicly last year that the 2003 march on Baghdad would destabilize the Middle East region.

"But concerns about an attack on Iraq were coming from even closer to home," the authors write. "Although he never went public with them, the president's own father shared many of Scowcroft's concerns. As the prospects of war continued to grow throughout 2002, family members could see the former president's anguish.

"When his sister, Nancy Ellis, asked him about the war, he responded: 'But do they have an exit strategy?'"

The authors write that President Bush sees the war on terrorism as a "religious war." They also provide personal accounts by Bush family members of the president's "anxiety" about fighting the war, and document how his daily Bible reading influences his decisions and language.

Among other news-breaking items: Jeb Bush, said in the book to have a "difficult relationship" with his presidential brother, is making plans to run for president in 2008. The authors write that the Florida governor is presently, albeit quietly, putting together a campaign organization.

LAMB AND LIONS

While this popular medium wasn't his invention, 25 years ago this week then-Rep. Al Gore of Tennessee stepped up to the House lectern and became the first member of Congress recognized to speak over the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, or C-SPAN.

The rest, shall we say, is history.

"Never in the history of the world have people known more about their government than the people of this country," says Brian Lamb, C-SPAN's founder and chief executive officer. "We've never had a population that's been more informed."

Lamb tells this column that 3.5 million cable homes were equipped to watch Gore address Congress on March 19, 1979. Today, C-SPAN's 275 employees transmit gavel-to-gavel coverage of Congress and additional programming into 88 million homes via three 24-hour TV networks: C-SPAN, C-SPAN2 and C-SPAN3.

Congress was skeptical at first.

"I remember it because it was an invasion, some people thought, upon the privacy of the institutions and that it would really destroy the ability of people to work together and argue and debate free from all the dimensions of what happens when you get to the public," Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords recalled this week while a guest of C-SPAN.

"On the other hand, I think there were some that felt ... the important thing for the country was to really know what goes on inside as well as what people say outside so that they would better understand how the government works."

Politically speaking, former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) saw another opportunity in C-SPAN.

"It was abused in a sense - Newt Gingrich was such a master of the utilization of the thing," said Jeffords, who two decades later abandoned the Republican Party to become an independent. "And I remember when it started and (former House Speaker Thomas P.) 'Tip' O'Neill would just - oh, I remember being with him even - he would just cringe when he would see Newt on there orating and realizing that this is going all over the country.

"And Newt would say, 'If there's anybody out there who disagrees with me, let them stand up and be heard.' And of course, there wasn't anybody there."

HERE'S AL

It's not often that CNN promotes the Fox News Channel, but when its guest is the Rev. Al Sharpton, arguably the most entertaining of the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates, exceptions are made.

CNN "Crossfire" host Paul Begala asked Sharpton about rumors that he plans to launch a cable TV show (granted possible future president John Kerry doesn't appoint Sharpton secretary of state).

"Have you had any negotiations or talks with ... Fox News, our competitors?" Begala asked.

"I think someone in a Fox News division sent us an idea about a reality script," Sharpton said, adding that he hopes to be the host of a cable show and a network radio show.

FILL A TARTAN

A bill designating April 6 as National Tartan Day, recognizing the achievements and contributions of Scottish Americans to the United States, has been introduced by Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.).

If you didn't gather, McIntyre is one of more than 11 million Americans who join this columnist in claiming Scottish roots, making our proud clan the eighth-largest ethnic group in the United States.

To educate public school children about Scottish influence on America, a National Tartan Day teachers guide is being made available to teachers across the land - www.TartanDay.org - while here in Washington a first-in-the-nation student competition on Scottish-American importance has been launched.

Unfortunately, there's no Scottish Embassy, so winning entries will be displayed at the British Embassy.

HILL INVENTOR

A physicist and congressman, Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) couldn't support House passage of the United States Patent and Trademark Fee Modernization Act.

Among other points, he says, the act will increase fees for inventors to obtain a patent or trademark, lead to decreased efficiency and accountability, and shift patents out of the hands of Uncle Sam to private commercial entities, perhaps sending U.S. jobs overseas.

"Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants the federal government the responsibility to 'promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries,' " he says.

How does Holt know so much?

He himself has obtained a patent for a system to generate solar energy.