Die young, but late

John McCaslin
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Posted: Oct 12, 2005 12:05 AM

If you haven't already noticed, it's stressful out there.

And what with all the anxiety in the world -- from hurricanes and earthquakes to terrorism and dire warnings of a bird-flu pandemic - nobody is feeling the pressure more than President Bush.

No wonder the 65 worshippers at St. John's Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House in Lafayette Square, were asked to pray "for George, our president" during Sunday's services.

"When we're in a heap of trouble," church rector the Rev. Luis Leon told Bush in his sermon, remember the advice of the Apostle Paul: Don't worry about things you cannot control, for it robs one of the ability to find joy in the present.

"Paul's life is instructive for us," said the preacher. "The art of life is to die young, as late as possible."

BORKED AGAIN

So, former Judge Robert Bork, tell us how you really feel: Are you impressed with President Bush's choice of Harriet Miers to the nation's highest court?

"Not a bit. I think it's a disaster on every level," Bork, himself a one-time Supreme Court nominee, told MSNBC's Tucker Carlson in no uncertain terms. He called the nomination a "slap in the face" to conservative Americans.

BUSH CALLING CARDS

"Well, it fell somewhere short of the severed horse's head placed in my bed on prior occasions." - Republican activist Christopher C. Horner, referring to reaction from President Bush's lieutenants after he publicly criticized the president and his choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. Horner said the president, by his nomination, "punted" an opportunity to debate the role of the Supreme Court "and precisely how we want to bring it back to respecting the Constitution."

RELEVANT CREDENTIALS

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says there is a "culture of cronyism" in the Bush White House, but she's not talking about the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

Pelosi and fellow Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman, like other members of their party, don't appear as upset as conservatives that President Bush nominated a person to the Supreme Court considered by many to be unqualified.

That said, Pelosi and Waxman did just introduce the Anti-Cronyism and Public Safety Act, which would prohibit the president from appointing unqualified individuals to critical public safety positions in the government.

"President Bush has handed out some of the country's most difficult and important jobs - leadership positions in public safety and emergency response - to politically well-connected individuals with no experience or qualifications," Waxman said.

The bill would require any presidential appointee for a public safety position to have "proven, relevant credentials" for that position.

STORM FLAGS

Buoyed by a recent Zogby International poll showing her only slightly trailing incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson - by 3.8 points - Florida Republican Rep. Katherine Harris sees red flags being raised by Democratic leaders in Washington.

The cause for Nelson's slump in the polls?

If you ask Harris, it has to do with voters realizing that her Democratic opponent's record is "more liberal than New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer's."

We checked in with the Nelson campaign yesterday, only to find that the latest poll it touts was conducted in late August by Quinnipiac University. That outdated survey showed the senator leading Harris 57 percent to 33 percent.

GIVING LEIF HIS DUE

So, did you celebrate Columbus Day or Leif Erikson Day during this just-concluded holiday weekend?

Actually, to keep everybody happy, President Bush this year issued proclamations for both "holidays," if you will.

In his Columbus Day 2005 proclamation, Bush observed that Italian Christopher Columbus' journey across uncharted waters in 1492 changed the course of history.

So, on Columbus Day, the president said, "we honor Christopher Columbus and the vision that carried him on his historic voyage."

However, Bush pointed out that over 1,000 years ago - centuries before Columbus sailed the seas - Leif Erikson, son of Iceland and grandson of Norway, left the coast of Greenland on his journey to explore "new lands."

"He . . . became one of the first Europeans known to have reached North America," Mr. Bush educates.

For the record, Sunday was officially Erikson Day, allowing Columbus his usual Monday holiday.

KANSAS COWBOY

One of the more popular White House press secretaries of recent times - among reporters and presidents alike - was Marlin Fitzwater, who toiled under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

One might say that even former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev admired the cigar-chomping Fitzwater, who liked to tell it the way he saw it.

Addressing students the other day from three major universities linked together by C-SPAN's Distance Learning Class, Fitzwater recalled the time he walked into the Oval Office, tail between his legs, and offered to submit his resignation to Bush.

Moments earlier, he told students, "I made the mistake of calling Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union a 'drugstore cowboy' because he kept making promises of reducing nuclear weapons, but he never gave us anything on paper that we could react to or negotiate.

"I'm an old farm boy from Kansas," he explained. "'Drugstore cowboy' meant someone was going around a drugstore saying how cool he was, but when it came time to put up or shut up, he couldn't do it. I thought this was a perfect analogy. Boy, was I wrong. Every paper in the country had 'Fitzwater Calls Gorbachev Drugstore Cowboy.'"

Rather than resigning on the spot, Bush told his apologetic spokesman to wait a day and see how the dust settled. Surprisingly, the next 24 hours brought no response whatsoever from Gorbachev or anybody else at the Kremlin.

And wouldn't you know, several days later the Soviets suddenly began reducing their nuclear-weapons stockpiles. And for that, or so he joked, Fitzwater doesn't mind taking the credit.

FALL OF AN EMPIRE

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, for which President Bush is honorary chairman, was authorized by Congress to erect an international memorial in Washington to the 100 million people killed by communist regimes.

And is it ever overdue.

"The fall of the communist empire," observed Czech President Vaclav Havel, "was an event on the same scale of importance as the fall of the Roman Empire."

Six months ago, the National Capital Planning Commission formally approved a site for the memorial - offering a clear view of the U.S. Capitol about two blocks from Union Station at the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues NW.

Washington author and historian Lee Edwards, the hands-on chairman of the foundation, who for several years has raised the required funding for the memorial, made it known that an unobstructed view of the U.S. Capitol was a top priority because at the heart of the memorial is a 10-foot bronze replica of the "Democracy" statue - based on the Statue of Liberty and erected by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

"We are very close to something we have been working toward for 15 years - building a memorial on Capitol Hill to the 100 million victims of communism and to those who love liberty," says Edwards, founding director of the Institute on Political Journalism at Georgetown University and a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

"We're delighted, we're excited, and we're looking forward to breaking ground in early 2006," he says, for which Mr. Bush and other world leaders are expected to attend.

ROYAL JOKE

If you think Washington malpractice lawyer Jack Olender's reputation resides solely inside the Beltway, think again.

Interviewed on CNN's "Larry King Live," newly published author Carole Radziwill recalled a practical joke that John F. Kennedy Jr. played on his cousin and her husband, Polish Prince Anthony Radziwill, who died of cancer one month after Mr. Kennedy perished in a plane crash in 1999.

After persuading his cousin the prince to serve as treasurer for one of his charities, Kennedy sent him a legal letter from "Jack Olender, Esquire," representing a woman who had tripped and fallen at one of the charity board meetings. The letter advised that she was suing for $10 million.

Kennedy went so far as to have a fake Olender employee answer the phone number on the phony letterhead when the prince called to discuss the claim. Radziwill said her husband framed the letter in appreciation of having fallen for the practical joke.

Olender tells this column that it's not unusual for injured people - and in some instances, lawyers - to tell insurance-claims representatives that they are going to hire the Washington lawyer for trial if the insurance company doesn't make a satisfactory offer.

"However, this is the first time I've had my name ripped off as part of a practical joke," says Olender. "And frankly, I'm flattered to have had a part in John-John's practical joke."

HALF-BAKED BARBARA

It's not easy being the master of ceremonies for a roast when half of the roasters don't show up.

Ask political commentator Mark Shields, who found himself in that uncomfortable position last Wednesday evening as the Spina Bifida Association attempted to put TV personality Barbara Walters in the "hot seat" at the Hyatt Regency Washington.

"This is more like a bake-off," a visibly embarrassed Walters said after the roasting, expressing disappointment that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and fellow roaster Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana were no-shows.

As it was, the two remaining roasters - Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes and ABC newsman Sam Donaldson - went easy on Walters, while last-second stand-in Mary Matalin, who was in the audience as Hughes' guest, tried to read from Landrieu's prepared remarks.

It got even worse at the close of the evening when organizers quickly dragged wires and cords on stage, hoping to patch through Clinton by telephone, but to no avail. (Clinton and Landrieu were said to be "detained" by official Senate duties.)

Nevertheless, the annual fund-raising event - which had in the audience Washington power couples Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn and Alan Greenspan and Andrea Mitchell - accomplished its goal of raising awareness of the most common permanently disabling birth defect in this country.

WHAT ABOUT MY BOAT?

If you think it's bad enough that the Internal Revenue Service collects your hard-earned tax dollars, imagine if an IRS agent prepared your income-tax returns, too.

No, we're not joking.

The concept, called "Return-Free" - where the IRS automatically prepares income-tax returns of those taxpayers with the simplest returns and then sends taxpayers the bill - is being considered by the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform.

One of several Republicans who opposes the concept calls it "flawed" and "dangerous to taxpayers."

It "creates a conflict of interest by making the tax collector the tax preparer," Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana warns in a letter sent to the chairman of the tax reform panel, Rep. Connie Mack, Florida Republican.

In addition, what are the chances that taxpayers will trust the IRS to find them the most deductions and biggest refund? (Whatever you do, don't try claiming your new sailboat as a business expense.)

"(M)any taxpayers will still have to take the time to prepare their taxes in order to verify (what) the IRS sent them," Pence predicts.

And believe it or not, under the proposal, the individual taxpayer - not the IRS - still will be personally liable for mistakes.

EARLY PRIMARIES

She may be sitting on the fence, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is way out in front of any other contender mentioned for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Asked in a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll for whom they would vote if the Democratic primary were held today, a whopping 42 percent of 900 registered voters replied Clinton.

Well behind the senator from New York and former first lady are Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, tied for second with 14 percent. Former Vice President Al Gore is backed by 11 percent of the voters, while Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware got 5 percent and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner got 1 percent.

Meanwhile, it remains an unofficial horse race for Republicans, with former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in the lead with 26 percent of the vote, followed closely by Sen. John McCain of Arizona at 23 percent and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with 18 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has the support of 7 percent, while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. George Allen of Virginia each got 2 percent of the vote.