John McCaslin

Only now do we learn the story of a former Reagan administration official who can speak firsthand of the significance of the recent shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad, when Iraqi TV journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi hurled his heavy size-10s at a ducking President Bush.

As Americans are now educated, striking somebody with a shoe is a tremendous insult in the Arab world - the target likened to the dirt beneath the shoe's sole. Mr. al-Zeidi even went a step further, calling Mr. Bush a "dog," an animal considered by many Arabs to be unclean.

About five years ago, this Reagan official who shall remain unnamed joined a group of 15 or so friends at one of the Washington-area's more popular Moroccan restaurants, which to this day features belly-dancing every night at 8 p.m.

Having loosened his shoes for comfort during his meal, the official became so energized by the belly dancer's performance that for reasons he can't explain he suddenly tossed one of his shoes onto the stage.

"He thought he was being funny," says a friend and fellow diner, a well-respected Washington lawyer who requests anonymity. "He had no idea it was an insult."

But the instant the shoe landed at the belly dancer's feet, he continues, "the music stops, the dancer storms off, and our entire dinner party is immediately thrown out the door."

"They were screaming at us, 'Get out! Get out! Get out! Get out!' pointing their fingers to the door. We didn't know it at the time, but we learned later that night that throwing a shoe is an extreme insult. We all got a quick lesson in Arab culture."


David Plouffe, who was Barack Obama's presidential-campaign manager, writes to supporters this week that presidential inaugural events of the past too often "focused on wealthy donors and Washington lobbyists."

"This year, every American will have a chance to be part of the inauguration," he promises. "President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden want you to join them in celebrating the unity we need to renew America's promise."

He then provides a Web link where everyday supporters who wish to celebrate Mr. Obama's victory can sign up to receive information on inaugural tickets and events. But first one has to provide a name and address, at which time a screen appears seeking donations to Mr. Obama's inaugural.

As someone who has covered seven presidential inaugurals, take this columnist's word: if you don't pony up the big bucks, you ain't getting into the party.


Friday is Allen Weinstein's last day as archivist of the United States. The historian recently submitted his resignation to President Bush, citing Parkinson's disease.

John McCaslin

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

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