McCaslin's Beltway Beat: Great deeds, men

John McCaslin
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Posted: Feb 08, 2002 12:00 AM
"Sometimes we get blamed for things that are not our fault. This is, however, often offset by occasions when we can bask in the reflected glory generated by the great deeds of others." - Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, whose 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts is home to the New England Patriots, offering philosophical congratulations to the new Super Bowl champions. TOURIST TRAP So few tourists have visited the nation's capital since Sept. 11 that Congress' "only member who never has to leave Washington," as she refers to herself, is hosting an unusual reception Tuesday (Feb. 12) for fellow lawmakers, entitled "Ask Me About Washington." The purpose of the reception is to "acquaint them with tourist attractions," says D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the thinking being that the congressmen will then go home and tell constituents about all that Washington has to offer. DEWEY WINS Early odds - very early odds - place former Vice President Al Gore as the front-runner for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, should he decide to run again. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, says she's still not interested in becoming the nation's first-ever female presidential nominee. Still, one pollster gives her a 2-in-10 chance of winding up on the ballot. Other high-profile Democrats - Sens. Tom Daschle, John Kerry, Evan Bayh, Joseph Lieberman and Joseph Biden Jr., and Rep. Richard Gephardt, to name a few - are also likely contenders for the nation's highest office. Chances are, barring an uncharacteristically close presidential election like 2000's, the pollsters will be able to accurately predict the winner well before Election Day. This wasn't always the case. The history of political polling in America is an intriguing one, beginning for the most part in 1916 when editors of the Literary Digest correctly predicted five straight presidential elections. "At a time before the development of scientific polling, this record was astonishing," says Stephen K. Medvic, an assistant professor of political science at Old Dominion University and research fellow at the Social Science Research Center. Then came Halloween Day, 1936. After tallying the preferred candidates of 2 million Americans, he says, the Digest's editors made a bold prediction: Republican Alf Landon would be the next president of the United States. "The primary cause of the Digest's error was the magazine's practice of mailing mock ballots to people based on telephone and automobile registration," Medvic explains. "In 1936, during the Great Depression, those with phones, and particularly those with cars, were disproportionately Republican. Since the Digest's sample was skewed, its prediction was flawed." At the same time, the professor continues, three young independent pollsters, including one named George Gallup, were able to foresee the Digest's misstep and launched a more scientific approach to polling. Their predictions: a landslide for FDR. Still, as Medvic is quick to point out, the science of polling was far from perfected. Look at Thomas Dewey in 1948. Or, for that matter, Al Gore in 2000. FUTURE LEADERS? Congress in recent days bid farewell to a rare class of congressional pages - young people like Lindsey Beck from Arizona, Zachary Stanton from Michigan, and Jennifer Hsieh from Texas - who, as history would have it, witnessed events unlike any previous class of pages chosen to serve on Capitol Hill. Rep. Dale. E. Kildee of Michigan, who for the last 20 years has been the ranking Democrat on the House Page Board, says he won't soon forget the unsettling day of Sept. 11 when the hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon and, like other lawmakers, he whisked his staff away from the U.S. Capitol building. But while fleeing, the congressman couldn't help but notice neatly dressed pages headed in the opposite direction. "I saw a group of pages coming toward the Capitol building," Kildee said. "They were supposed to be here, they thought, and I said, 'Get back to the dorm.' Their sense of duty was enormous, although this building could very well have been the target." BOMBS AWAY, DUBYA Those who think President Bush is flexing too much military might in the war against terrorism should pick up the new book, "The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians" (Random House, $19.95), by Caleb Carr. As Carr sees it, by "fighting war with war," Bush might just have saved a country left dangerously vulnerable by former President Bill Clinton. "The successful answer to the terrorist threat lies not in repeated analyses of individual contemporary terrorist movements, nor in legalistic attempts to condemn their behavior in courts of law," the author writes. "Rather, it lies in the formulation of a comprehensive, progressive strategy that can address all terrorist threats with the only coercive measures that have ever affected or moderated terrorist behavior: pre-emptive military offensives aimed at making not only terrorists, but the states that harbor, supply, and otherwise assist them, experience the same perpetual insecurity that they attempt to make their victims feel." Carr says during most of the eight years of the Clinton administration, when global terrorist cells such as Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network were very active, almost all federal funds for anti-terrorist efforts were targeted at "detective and intelligence" work, while "pre-emptive military strikes against terrorist leaders, networks, or bases were ignored." "Clinton's most significant military move against terrorism, the bombings of Afghanistan and Sudan that followed terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, were wholly reactive and completely predictable, to say nothing of utterly ineffective," Carr writes. Rather, "war can only be answered with war, and it is incumbent on us to devise a style of war more imaginative, more decisive, and yet more humane than anything terrorists can contrive."