Beltway Beat: Stripped of dignity

Posted: Aug 07, 2002 12:00 AM
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, who admits he has been accused of wearing a hairpiece, has been surprised to learn that former Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) was wearing a toupee all these years. Prison authorities last week confiscated the purplish hairpiece from the former Democrat - who says he will run for Congress again as an independent - when he began serving an eight-year prison sentence for corruption. "It never crossed my mind that that was an artificial piece, because I just know that if he had been able to pick and choose his hair it would look better than that," Lott says of the gravity-defying wig. The Mississippi Republican adds that, were it up to him, Traficant would be allowed to wear his toupee behind bars. HOP THE FENCE Wonder what else your tax dollars are buying these days? Try U.S. government "freebies," which are actually costing Americans a pretty penny (read billions of dollars each year). Enjoying a weekend outing on Washington's grassy National Mall, Demian Brady, a policy analyst for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, came across an outdoor "public service recognition fair" for the federal government. Among the more amusing - or, as he puts it, "depressing" - items that Brady picked up were a "Report Drug Smuggling" beer can cooler, a colorful "Look Ma! I'm a Bureaucrat!" brochure, a U.S. Customs Service frisbee and - perhaps most ironically - a yo-yo from the U.S. Border Patrol. (Our guess is that when not stringing up illegal aliens, Border Patrol officers have been practicing for the American Yo-Yo Association's world yo-yo contest in Florida, which - we kid you not - features competition in the new 2002 trick: "One Hop the Fence"). COLIN.GOV RESPONDS U.S. diplomats posted around the world have been sent the following electronic warning from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in the wake of numerous internal e-mail memos, contents of which, as disclosed by this column, were deemed disrespectful to President Bush and certain members of Congress. The department has recently experienced several serious instances of inappropriate use of our U.S. government e-mail system," Powell writes. "Employees are expected to use all e-mail systems in a professional and courteous manner." The secretary says he encourages candid and full debate about policy and management issues, "however, disparaging or abusive remarks about individuals do not further the goals of the department, do not reflect a responsible attitude toward one's job or toward others and will not be tolerated. Employees who misuse government e-mail will be subject to disciplinary action." A pair of State Department staffers in Washington were later disciplined for typing, among other things, that the dean of the New York congressional delegation, Republican Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, would announce "he died back in 1992, but that no one noticed until now." Powell and other senior State Department officials personally apologized to Gilman and almost 100 members of Congress who were "outraged" by the pair's remarks. But several days later, even more offensive e-mails surfaced, including one blistering memo written by the U.S. Consul General Charles Keil, the ranking U.S. official in Italy. Keil's memo, which was sent to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, among other officials, likened portions of President Bush's war on terrorism to a "witch hunt" that "smacks of the days of Sen. Joseph McCarthy." State Department employee Columbia A. Barrosse responded that the White House would probably appoint a "neo-nazi" to replace former Assistant Secretary of State Mary Ryan, who recently retired because of the department's negligence in the issuance of U.S. visas, including as many as 15 visas to the terrorist hijackers of September 11. MILK DRIVE As was widely reported, Washington Redskins legend George Allen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) was there to accept the honor on his late father's behalf. "When my father was asked to interview for his first head coaching position, at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, he couldn't afford a car to get him there from his home in Detroit," Allen revealed. "So, for his transportation, he found a milk truck that needed to be delivered to a nearby town. He made it to Sioux City, got the job and turned Morningside into winners. "His ride in that milk truck also showed the tenacity and dedication to the goal at hand that made him one of the most successful coaches in NFL history," the senator added. In fact, Allen said after he lost his first race for elected office in 1979, his father was instrumental in encouraging him to run again. That drive helped lead him to victories for the Virginia House of Delegates five times, and then to the U.S. House, the Virginia governor's mansion and now the U.S. Senate. HOUND DOG DAYS Pennsylvania has its world-famous weather forecasting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. During these dog days of August, it's Virginia's hound dog Lady Agatha that gets restless. She awaits the summer's end for relief from the sun and humidity. And, she wonders, will we hold on to summer through September? So, during the early morning of Aug. 2, she crawls out from under her porch and takes notice. Should she pass by her water dish, we can look forward to an early autumn. Should she lap the water from her dish, we can expect six more weeks of hot weather. Lady Agatha lapped up a goodly amount of refreshing Caroline County artesian well water at approximately 6:28 a.m. on Friday. Hot weather will thus continue for six more weeks. POWELL'S THE TICKET President Bush could be the answer to attracting black Americans into the conservative fold. "George W. Bush, despite his notable failure to win black votes in 2000, could be the pivotal figure in returning a sizable number of black voters to the party of Lincoln," author Jeremy D. Mayer writes in his upcoming book, "Running on Race: Racial Politics in Presidential Campaigns 1960-2000" (Random House, $26.95). We'll skip past campaigns (including what the author calls Bill Clinton's ability to "manipulate" racial politics to his advantage) and look to 2004 and beyond. Which for Al Gore, granted he makes another stab at the White House, means courting black voters like he never has before. "Gore, like Clinton, was a New Democrat, but unlike Clinton, Gore never had a reservoir of good feeling in the black community," says Mayer, a visiting government professor at Georgetown University in Washington. In fact, Gore "had been far from the first choice of black leaders in 1992 when Clinton put him on the ticket," says Mayer. (During eight years as vice president, Gore tried to woo black leaders; however, his Reinventing Government initiative hurt his cause by advocating an end to affirmative action in federal procurement contracts.) As for our current president, the "razor-thin margin of Bush's victory will force Republican strategists in 2004 to compete for black votes as they have not since 1960," says the author. "The early signs are that Bush intends to try to heal the deep racial wounds of the 2000 campaign." (He actually started days after his tortuous victory, inviting D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams to be his first White House guest, hosting an unprecedented meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, and even phoning the sex-scandalized Rev. Jesse Jackson to express his support.) "One cannot imagine any previous Republican president making a similar call to Jackson," Mayer notes. To win black support above the "anemic 8 percent" he tallied in 2000, Bush has barely a few options, like an appealing high-profile policy like combating racial profiling or a strong defense of affirmative action. But the president's best bet? "The only other hope for Bush to steal a sizable fraction of the black vote from the Democrats in 2004 would be running with a black vice presidential nominee," Mayer writes, adding the "obvious candidate" is Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. "The exuberance and enthusiasm of the Jewish community in response to the nomination of Joseph Lieberman in 2000," says the author, "was as nothing compared to the excitement that would be produced by the major party nomination of a black for the second highest office in the land." GORE VS. LIEBERMAN Unsuspecting media types, now including yours truly, are held accountable for their oracular pronouncements at the Web site "This column will go on record and predict that (Albert) Gore will make a third run for the presidency," we'd written early last month, earning a place among veteran "prophets" like Eleanor Clift, Cokie Roberts and John McLaughlin. Still, reading one of the latest pronouncements, this column's prophesy has been greatly upstaged by Howard Fineman of Newsweek: "I think in the end (Joseph) Lieberman will run even if Gore does."