McCaslin's Beltway Beat: Still beating

Posted: Dec 12, 2001 12:00 AM
"Life is not fair: Saddam Hussein still has a job, and I'm unemployed. You know damn well it's not fair." But what better consolation for the nation's 41st president, who uttered those words at a panel discussion this year on the 10th anniversary of the Persian Gulf war, to watch his eldest son, President George W. Bush, pick up where he left off. Former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, were guests of honor recently at the Georgetown home of former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, toasting the publication of a new book, "Heartbeat: George Bush in His Own Words," compiled and edited by Bush's longtime aide and speechwriter Jim McGrath. The former president, says McGrath, speaks often of what he calls "heartbeat," a simple code word referring to personal bedrock values: service, duty, honor, friends, faith and, particularly, family. In his own words, Bush said: "I'm not sure if they knew the real George Bush, I would have been re-elected president. But it's funny how such differences of opinion - maybe it's other public figures, too - but I am convinced that the American people didn't know my heartbeat. And I can't blame anybody but myself for that." Upon further reflection, he added: "Now that my political days are over, I can honestly say that the three most rewarding titles I've held are the only three I have left - a husband, a father, and a granddad." In compiling the book, McGrath sifted through 7,521 of Bush's public papers encompassing 1,459 days in office, 1,520 presidential speeches, remarks and toasts, and official transcripts from 273 news conferences and exchanges with the White House press corps. In his own words - advice, no doubt he's offered his son, particularly of late - Bush said politicians most often do the "easy things, the popular things. But it's the tough things that tell you about character and honor and leadership. Anyone can demagogue, but presidents must make decisions. "The presidency is not a popularity contest. I think you elect a president to say what America needs to hear, even when it's not what people want to hear. In the campaign, you hear all kinds of quick fixes, all kinds of political rhetoric, but a president must make decisions and lead." SMOKE AND MIRRORS Last month, when a passenger failed to follow commands of the flight crew and remain in his seat of U.S. Airways Flight 969 on approach to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, he was immediately tackled by armed sky marshals and the plane was diverted to Washington Dulles International Airport. The next day, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who happened to be aboard the flight, went to the Senate floor to commend the sky marshals for having "responded quickly with what appeared to be a threat to those of us who were on the flight." But Sunday on American Airlines Flight 684 from Miami into Reagan, this column has learned, there was apparently no sky marshal aboard, or else the armed officer dozed off. "The passengers were horrified," says our source. "Several minutes after the pilot got on the loudspeaker and told the passengers they were required by law to remain in their seats until the plane landed, a man of Middle Eastern descent stood up and walked into the bathroom. And nobody did anything. "It was unbelievable," says the source, whose husband is a recently retired commercial airline pilot. "There obviously was no air marshal on board, or else they didn't do anything. And the flight crew just sat there and did nothing. This is outrageous." A short time later, as visibly anxious passengers looked on, the man emerged from the restroom and took his seat. New Federal Aviation Administration rules instituted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings require passengers to be seated 30 minutes prior to landing at Reagan - the last major U.S. airport to reopen after the attacks due to its close proximity to Washington and its landmarks. However, FAA spokesman Bill Schumann told this column that contrary to what many airline passengers might have assumed, air marshals are not necessarily on board every flight into and out of Reagan. "We basically have not discussed numbers or deployment of air marshals," says Schumann. "We have never said that they are or are not on every flight into and out of Reagan." THE LEAST WE CAN DO There is no worse time than when America troops are waging war against an enemy to tinker with Veterans Day. Last August, the National Commission on Federal Election Reform (the "Ford Carter Commission") recommended combining Veterans Day with Election Day during even calendar years. If that isn't enough tinkering, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, has introduced a bill to move Veterans Day - Nov. 11 - to Election Day during presidential election years. Not so fast, says a majority of Congress. The House has passed a resolution stating that Veterans Day should continue to be observed on Nov. 11, separate from any other federal holiday, day for federal elections, or national observances. The resolution states that "maintaining Veterans Day as a legal holiday separate from all other federal holidays is the least that a grateful nation should do in recognition of its veterans." KEMP FOR SENATE? "Since when do we raise taxes in a recession? This is the most irresponsible idea Sen. Clinton has come up with since her attempt to nationalize America's health care system in 1993." -- Former New York Republican Rep. Jack Kemp, co-director of Empower America, condemning Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's call for a tax increase on NBC's "Meet the Press."