The gathering storm

John McCaslin
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Posted: Sep 23, 2003 12:00 AM

Celia Sandys, granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, arrived on schedule in Washington last week to address a conference of the Churchill Center.

One of her hosts, Radio America President Jim Roberts, suggested she reschedule her visit in view of the impending arrival of Hurricane Isabel. Sandys, however, was positively Churchillian in her disdain for the gathering storm.

She recounted that shortly after becoming prime minister in 1940, her grandfather decided to fly to France in the height of a storm to give encouragement to the French government.

"He said, 'Whatever the weather, I am going,' and go he did," she said. "It was a case of 'never give in.' Many people have told me that I should not go to Washington at this time. I am going."

So, while Uncle Sam stayed home for two days, Sandys made her rounds, albeit often in the dark. Thousands of Washington-area residents remained without power.

CAR TALK

There will be a unique parade along Constitution Avenue in Washington next Tuesday, Sept. 30, as an original 1903 Winton Touring Car will lead several classic vehicles - including a 1928 Studebaker, a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria, a 1957 Chevy convertible and a 1961 Cadillac - to the entrance of the National Museum of American History.

Upon arrival around 2 p.m., the museum will provide a sneak peek at "America on the Move," an exhibition opening this fall in the new General Motors Hall of Transportation.

On behalf of the new exhibit, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns asked many U.S. senators to comment on their first automobiles. Here's a sampling GM kindly shared with this column:

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Pinto (red and white): "I was working on Jerry Brown's campaign for president and one day when he was visiting a city in Ohio I was there with my car. Jerry wanted to ride around in the Pinto, so he climbed in and four other guys crammed into the car to ride around town in the Pinto."

Sen. Michael B. Enzi (R-Wy.), 1967 Cougar XR-7: "My first car was metallic lime green with leather seats, toggle switches and multi-directional tail lights. I put a lot of miles on it going to Laramie, Wyo., to court the lady that became my wife. After my wife, Diana, and I had our first child in November of 1971, we traded the car in for a station wagon."

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), 1948 four-door Chevy: "The interior was huge. The back end was higher that than the front, so I took it down to the beach and put a large sack of sand in the trunk to give it that lowered-in-the-back look. Paid $125 for it. Loved it!"

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.): "My first car was a 1962 Corvair Monza, made famous in Ralph Nader's book 'Unsafe at Any Speed.' Nader's strong criticism of the car allowed me to buy it for a song while I was an undergraduate at Ohio State. I believe that I paid less than $500 for the vehicle and went on to drive it for my last couple of years in college and then on to Pensacola, Fla., where I began my preflight training in late 1968."

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.): "Back in the 1970s, I was serving on the Detroit City Council and driving my mother's car. One day, as I sat at a restaurant window eating lunch with a friend, I watched a man jump into my mother's car and drive off. We ran outside, jumped into my buddy's car and followed the car as he drove to a house in one of Detroit's neighborhoods. When he parked the car and went inside, we called the police and told them what had happened. They came to the house; I identified the guy; they arrested him and I got my mother's car back."

Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.): "My first car was a 1974, lime green, Ford Pinto station wagon that cost $1,900. It had a rudimentary rear-window defroster that was powered by this big alternator. When the alternator was fully engaged you could have provided enough electricity for a small suburban town. I was always fighting rust on that car. I would treat the rust and spray over it with lime-green spray paint."

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), 1952 Plymouth: The senator's most vivid memory of his Plymouth was the time he decided to give the car a new coat of paint. Immediately afterward, he parked it in front of his parents' house in McCook, Neb., where a driver sped along, hit the Plymouth and demolished it.

SHELLS AND CEMENT

The 10 announced Democratic presidential hopefuls should be "dismissed as pawns" on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's political chessboard until the former first lady makes a "definitive, irreversible commitment" to stay out of the 2004 presidential sweepstakes.

So says Roger Hughes, spokesman for the Iowa Presidential Watch, an Iowa-based political watchdog group. He notes that despite Sen. Clinton's public denials about becoming a candidate for the 2004 Democratic nomination, "there continues to be a disturbing drumbeat of reports, hints and rumors" that she will eventually seek the nomination.

"Many of the reports are fueled by several recent comments and suggestions from the Clintons themselves," Hughes observes. "For those who have watched the Clintons operate over the years ... their mutual ability to scheme is legendary and well-documented."

He says it would be a serious mistake for Democrats to make a financial or even emotional investment in any of the current Democratic candidates as long there's a prospect that Sen. Clinton will enter the 2004 campaign mix.

"One of the most disturbing aspects of the Clintons' approach is they continue to play a political shell game with Democrats and all American voters," he says. "One day they deny that Hillary will be a candidate and then the next day - out of the other side of their mouths - they drop comment that a presidential bid may still be an option."

Meanwhile, as Sen. Clinton sits on the fence, the current slate of 10 Democratic candidates painstakingly try to stand out from the rest of the pack. For instance, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) eagerly announced Monday (Sept. 22) that he has been endorsed by the Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association.

DOING LUNCH

First lady Laura Bush is honorary co-chairman of Communities in Schools, which is once again conducting its annual "Lunch With A Leader" online auction to help kids succeed in school and prepare for life.

Currently EBay is accepting bids to break bread with a long list of celebrities. As of Monday (Sept. 22), for example, bidding stood at $2,025 to dine with former first lady Rosalynn Carter, $680 to gaze across the table at ABC's George Stephanopoulos, and $152 to listen to the spiel of political activist/actor Mike Farrell (B.J. Hunnicut of the television show "M-A-S-H").

Not on the auction block this year, due to the fact that both recently entered the political arena, are California gubernatorial hopeful Arnold Schwarzenegger, who fetched $10,000 in last year's auction, and former NATO commander and Democratic presidential candidate retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who accepted a luncheon date for a mere $650.

While Mrs. Bush isn't on the auction block, she encourages readers to place a bid at www.missionfish.com/LunchWithALeader/index.htm.

NEVER STOP LOBBYING

"Some would call these lobbyists enlightened to allow a win in overtime by one point by the members of the House." - Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) remarking on the annual congressional basketball game against the American League of Lobbyists. Rigged or not, congressmen were the winners for the third time in a row; this year's score 49-48 in overtime.

PROPS HELP

Christopher J. Paulitz, communications director for Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), issued the following news release Monday: "Just wanted to let all of you know that with the help of a big diamond and a lot of wine, I was able to convince Diane to marry me this weekend."