President Bush didn't come right out and call the nation's top newspaper editors a bunch of communists Wednesday, but he came pretty close.
"Thank you for having me here, members of the Politburo," Bush deadpanned to newspaper executives at the head table of a gathering of the Newspaper Association of America, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Associated Press. "I mean, my fellow Americans."
The crack prompted laughter at the gathering of editors and publishers at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. The Fourth Estate evidently found it funny to be compared to the chief political and executive committee of the Communist Party.
Democratic turnout in the party's 2004 presidential primaries was low, the third-lowest on record.
Low enough that only 5 percent of eligible Americans participated in the selection of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry as presumptive nominee to face President Bush in November.
Bush can't laugh. Republican presidential-primary turnout was the lowest on record.
Fortunately, we learn that turnout levels in presidential primaries are not a predictor of general-election turnout.
In fact, given major issues of concern among Americans today, the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate is predicting a "comparatively high" turnout this November - greater than in 2000 and 1996, and perhaps exceeding the 58 percent turnout of 1992.
"It is virtually inconceivable that general election turnout will not go up in 2004, likely to be equal or higher than the level reached in 1992," says CSAE director Curtis B. Gans, who cites the "strong emotions" Americans are feeling today about the future path of their country.
We had to laugh when former Education Secretary Bill Bennett's interview with Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey on a recent "Morning in America" broadcast turned to the left wing's condemnation of the USA Patriot Act.
Bennett said it occurred to him that the Patriot Act - which allows the intelligence field and criminal investigators to share information and compare notes to keep Americans safe from al Qaeda-types - is used as a "synecdoche" in certain societal settings.
"It's like saying 'McCarthy' or 'Reagan' in another period - where you say the word and people shiver and shake," Bennett cited as examples. "But in fact there are few if any civil liberties violations that have been cited because of the Patriot Act, do I have that right?"
"I'm not aware of a single case of a documented abuse of anyone's rights because of the Patriot Act," replied Comey, who recalled addressing one such audience of skeptics on New York City's Upper West Side.
"And I said, when you stand there with your glass of chablis, or whatever you drink in Manhattan, and someone says 'Isn't the Patriot Act evil?' - before you nod your head, do me a favor, ask the speaker what do you mean specifically.
"Because the angle is in the details, it is so important and so ordinary," Comey said. "Because if people will only demand the details, they will understand why we can't do away with these tools."
Another black eye for the nation's capital, this latest shiner delivered on the Senate floor by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), who discovered a "very shocking and troubling situation" in the District's juvenile detention center known as Oak Hill.
As chairman of the Appropriations District of Columbia subcommittee, DeWine recently paid a call to the center to make certain it was meeting the needs of the detainees it serves.
He emerged to say "this place simply needs to be shut down once and for all."
Illegal-drug use - marijuana to PCP - is so rampant inside the facility, the senator revealed this week, that "some youths entering Oak Hill drug-free actually started taking drugs once they were inside."
Congress learned this week that in the fall of 2000, a U.S. intelligence Predator drone captured Osama bin Laden on tape.
"At that time, the Predator could not be armed, but the tape is revealing," says Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican. "It was relayed in real time to CIA headquarters, and the CIA was watching bin Laden as he moved, when he moved.
"The tape proves that the Clinton administration had bin Laden in its sights, as it did several times during its eight years in office, but did nothing," the congressman charges.
That said, before the Sept. 11 commission issues its final report, it ought to call 37-year CIA veteran Anne Allen to testify - if for no other reason than to put the recent explosive testimony by former counterterroism czar Richard Clarke into proper perspective.
We first heard from the former CIA official six weeks after Sept. 11, on the heels of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright insisting in this column that the Clinton administration did not have the public support or proper intelligence to root Osama bin Laden from his terrorist camp in Afghanistan.
"You got my blood boiling," Allen told this column. "We had repeated - and ignored - warnings throughout the '90s. National security is the primary job of a federal administration. This was a disaster in the Clinton administration, and now they don't even have the grace to keep their mouths shut."
LOSING THE GOLD
The nation's estate tax, one of the oldest levies on the books, has claimed its share of victims, including singer Pat Boone.
"As he aged, I noticed that his savings were dwindling," Boone, national spokesman for the 60 Plus Association, a senior citizens lobby, said of his father, who was a building contractor in Nashville, Tenn., when he retired at age 80. "So I created a fund for him to help, but he was a proud man. But later, when he asked about someone buying his gold coin collection, I knew that his money was quickly going away."
As in going to Uncle Sam?
"I mean, somehow the government has the right to take half of what Daddy was able to take in. And I know that is not right for us and for millions of other Americans. This is money that was earned," said Boone, whose 60 Plus Association is dedicated to the repeal of the estate tax.
WHERE THE FUNDS GO
The Bush administration is sponsoring an event with MTV, but it's not next year's Super Bowl halftime show.
Federal agencies - including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Agency for International Development - are listed as "platinum" sponsors of the June "Youth and Health: Generation on the Edge" conference in Washington. It not only involves MTV and Planned Parenthood, but also the left-wing advocacy group MoveOn.org, which says that President Bush "can't be trusted to tell the truth to Americans."
On June 1, "Advocacy Day," activists are scheduled to lobby Congress. The next day's schedule features a "Celebrate Youth" event, honoring Bill Roedy, president of MTV Networks International.
One House Republican staffer noted that the U.N. Population Fund - prohibited by law from receiving federal funds - will be featured at the conference. "Many members are concerned about the amount of taxpayer funds from federal agencies that will be used for this conference," the staffer said. "Subsidizing conferences featuring groups which are themselves prohibited by law from receiving federal funds is, to say the least, highly questionable. America remains a nation of free speech, but the federal government is not in the business of funding all conferences or subsidizing all speakers."