A fourth-generation logger from Montana, Bruce Vincent was in tears when he walked out of the Oval Office.
As executive director of Provider Pals, a youth cultural-exchange program, Vincent was among a small group of people invited to the White House on May 3 to receive the first Preserve America Presidential Awards.
His first impression of President Bush: "a firm handshake and a look that can be described only as penetrating. Warm, alive, fully engaged, disarmingly penetrating."
But then Vincent came face to face with a personal side of Bush that few have seen, particularly in the Oval Office - his spiritual side.
"After about 30 or 35 minutes," Vincent recalls, "the president and first lady made one more pass down the line of awardees, shaking hands and offering congratulations. When the president shook my hand, I said, 'Thank you, Mr. President. God bless you and your family.'
"He was already in motion to the next person in line, but he stopped abruptly, turned fully back to me . . . and said, 'Thank you - and God bless you and yours, as well.'"
Vincent then took the opportunity to request that Bush remember his stepmother, Loretta Vincent, in prayers that day. At that exact moment, Mrs. Vincent was having a tumor removed from her skull at a hospital in Kalispell, Mont. What occurred next is worthy of presidential, if not religious, history books.
"He grabbed me by the arm and took me back toward his desk as he said, 'So, that's it. I could tell that something is weighing heavy on your heart today. I could see it in your eyes. This explains it,'" were the president's words to Vincent.
Bush then discussed with the award recipient the importance of family and the strength of prayer. "He said, 'If it's okay with you, we'll take care of the prayer right now. Would you pray with me?' I told him yes, and he turned to the staff that remained in the office and hand motioned the folks to step back or leave. He said, 'Bruce and I would like some private time for a prayer.'
"As they left he turned back to me and took my hands in his. I was prepared to do a traditional prayer stance - standing with each other with heads bowed. Instead, he reached for my head with his right hand and, pulling gently forward, he placed my head on his shoulder.
"With his left arm on my midback, he pulled me to him in a prayerful embrace. He started to pray softly. I started to cry. He continued his prayer for Loretta and for God's perfect will to be done. I cried some more. My body shook a bit as I cried, and he just held tighter. He closed by asking God's blessing on Loretta and the family during the coming months."
Vincent's wife, Patti Jo, told The Beltway Beat from the couple's home in Libby, Mont., yesterday that Loretta Vincent is undergoing radiation for the tumor and "so far, so good." Sadly, Vincent lost his mother to the same form of cancer in 1996.
Who would have thought that the 2004 presidential election would come down to a colossal error?
Going into the final stretch of one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in our lifetime, any major Election Day effect of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's attack ads against Democratic Sen. John Kerry is "falling by the wayside," says Paul JJ Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor, which tracks politically sensitive words and phrases in newspapers and on television and the Internet.
Instead, his latest index finds, among the top political buzzwords that will be on voters' minds when they step into polling booths are "colossal error" and "global test" - "the political (psychological) fault lines upon which the presidential race will ultimately be decided."
"Colossal error" was Kerry's description of President Bush's decision to wage war in Iraq, and "global test" was the Democrat's description of the bar he would set before committing the United States to pre-emptive strikes, a term widely derided by Mr. Bush and his supporters.
Furthermore, in a turn of events neither ticket had expected, "Mary Cheney" suddenly has emerged as a hot-button issue, given the question of her sexuality and her family's furor over it being brought up "gratuitously" by Kerry and his vice-presidential running mate, Sen. John Edwards, in their respective debates.
Finally, it's worth pointing out another observation by Payack: "Kerry supporters seem to see 'liberal' as a derogatory remark, while those of the president view 'conservative' as a badge of honor."
SAFETY IN GUNS
There are two ways to look at gun safety, depending on whether you work or live on Capitol Hill.
The more traditional definition of firearms safety is reflected in Republican New York Rep. Amo Houghton's latest bill, which provides for an income-tax credit for Americans who purchase a safe in which to store their guns.
The credit would amount to 25 percent of the total costs of purchasing, shipping and installing a gun safe in a taxpayer's residence, with the maximum credit limited to 25 percent of the total costs up to $1,000, or a total credit of $250.
Then there is the other type of gun safety voiced by Democratic Georgia Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., who complains that residents of the nation's capital - unlike Americans residing in the 50 states - are not granted their constitutional right to protect themselves.
"Only the District of Columbia prohibits a person from having a firearm assembled and loaded at home, for the purpose of self-defense," he notes. "I believe that that's wrong."
(As the bumper sticker warns - and residents of Washington have so rudely discovered on a daily basis - when guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns).
FEAR OF FLYING
While Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry is calling for cargo to be inspected on commercial airlines, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, New York Democrat, says more protection is needed for airport perimeters.
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finds that airport-perimeter security has not improved appreciably since September 11, 2001. Even worse, federal funds earmarked by Congress for such safety improvements have yet to be delivered to several major airports that are highly vulnerable to unauthorized entry.
More proof is a recent "report card" issued by the Air Line Pilots Association, which gives airport-perimeter security in the United States an overall grade of "D." Meeks calls the grade "shameful and unacceptable."
Congress has established a Federal Aviation Security Capital Fund - $250 million per year - to finance security improvements at U.S. airports. Yet, key airports now identified as having particular needs for "expeditious improvements" include some of the nation's busiest - New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia International Airport; Newark International Airport in New Jersey; Chicago's O'Hare International Airport; Baltimore-Washington International Airport; Birmingham International Airport in Alabama; and Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh international airports in Pennsylvania.
How might perimeter security be compromised?
"One issue of particular concern is the proliferation of MANPADS - Man-Portable Air Defense Systems - or, in a nutshell, shoulder-launched, anti-aircraft missiles," Mr. Meeks says.
The GAO reported in May that MANPADS pose a threat to commercial aircraft for several reasons: their wide availability (Uncle Sam estimates that several thousand MANPADS are outside government controls); their low cost, portability and lethality; and their success in attacking and bringing down aircraft - including the U.S. military's - in other countries.
Baseball - and political - junkies from across the country have happily stepped up to the plate to help The Beltway Beat choose a suitable moniker for Washington's still-nameless baseball team, the first to take the field since the Washington Senators played their final game here on Sept. 30, 1971.
"I also was at that game - 17 years old - right on the third base line by the Yanks' dugout," recalls Jim Reiter, vice president of the American Hospital Association. "I will never forget . . . an old African-American man behind me who couldn't control his tears when 'Hondo' (Frank Howard) hit that (home run). I shook his hand or high-fived him or something, and he held on for dear life he was so emotional - and got me that way, too."
As for a suitable team name to replace the former Montreal Expos?
"I'd love to go with the Washington Van Winkles, since baseball's been asleep here for so long," says Reiter. "And I'd love the Senators for nostalgia's sake."
Other reader favorites: Switch Hitters, Right Wingers, Monuments, Gippers, Wonders, Lobby, Pundits, Porkers, Statesmen, Insiders, Generals, Candidates and Minutemen.
But some preferred the Red, White & Blue Sox, Waffles, Interns, Gridlocks, Gates, Elite, Devils, Foggy Bottoms, Lobbyists, Bureau Cats, Taxers, Spinners, Leakers, Agendas, Red Tapes, Panderers, Powermongers, Incumbents and Liberals.
Also named were Beltway Bandits, Beltway Boys, Bats, Reagans, Nationals, Homers, Partisans, Girlie Men and . . . George.
Images of America's two major political wings have been frozen for generations - Democrats: the party of the little guy, Republicans: the party of the wealthy. Or are they?
"No more," says Karl Zinsmeister, editor in chief of the American Enterprise and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
In an Institute paper, he says whole blocs of "little guys" - ethnics, rural residents, evangelicals, cops, construction workers, homemakers, military veterans - began moving into the Republican column as early as the 1960s and 1970s.
"And big chunks of America's rich elite - financiers, academics, heiresses, media barons, software millionaires, entertainers - drifted into the Democratic Party," Mr. Zinsmeister continues.
"John Kerry is a perfect embodiment of the takeover of the Democratic Party by wealthy elites. If elected, he would become the richest man ever to sit in the White House," he says, citing such Democratic senators as Jon Corzine of New Jersey and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia as "simultaneously at the top of the heap in wealth and on the left in politics."
As for the party shift across the American landscape, an Ipsos-Reid study comparing counties that voted strongly for George W. Bush to those that voted strongly for Al Gore in the 2000 election found that in pro-Bush counties, only 7 percent earned at least $100,000, while 38 percent had household incomes below $30,000.
In pro-Gore counties, fully 14 percent pulled in $100,000 or more, while 29 percent earned less than $30,000.
It was a wild ride late last week for reporters whose press vans - which were supposed to tail President Bush's limousine to the airport in Las Vegas - somehow became separated from the presidential motorcade.
"Moments later, a bald, burly officer stopped and further delayed the vans at a police roadblock that had been erected at an intersection," reads the official White House pool report. "After he relented and allowed the pool to pass, the vans sped down a deserted highway, screeching to a halt just in time for the confused lead driver to ponder whether to take an exit ramp.
"Finally deciding to exit the highway, the vans were again halted at the foot of the ramp by another gaggle of police. After much dashing around and opening and closing of van doors by Secret Service agents, the forlorn little caravan proceeded another 50 yards down the wrong way of a one-way street.
"The vans managed to turn around and proceed in the other direction for 100 yards or so before being stopped at, yes, (another) police roadblock. Think Baghdad, with fewer potholes."
Salem Chalabi, one of the principal drafters of the Iraqi interim constitution, said yesterday that the insurgents in Iraq probably would prefer Sen. John Kerry as the next U.S. president.
Chalabi, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said that if he were "under the hat of a member of the resistance, I would prefer that John Kerry wins."
"They may feel that John Kerry doesn't have the investment, the political investment in the Iraqi situation that President Bush has," he said.
Chalabi was a member of the legal and finance committees of the Iraqi Governing Council, the forerunner of the current government. In April, he was appointed head of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which is charged with trying Saddam Hussein.
SEEN IN WASHINGTON
"I Actually Voted For John Kerry Before I Voted Against Him."
- 2004 presidential campaign bumper sticker