Matter of fact

John McCaslin
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Posted: Mar 02, 2006 8:05 PM

During Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee debate on immigration, senators found themselves detailing their own heritage. That prompted the following exchange by first-generation American Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republian, whose ancestors all arrived by 1850.

Specter: "Did they miss the Civil War?"

Sessions: "No, Lincoln killed one of them."

TROUBLED YOUTH

The Beltway Beat thought it would be fun to have former House Speaker Newt Gingrich autograph a pair of old black-and-white photographs that landed on our desk however many years ago - one of Gingrich the collegian, sporting long sideburns that stretch practically to his Adam's apple; the other of young "Newtie" at age 7, posing atop a tamed pony and wearing a cowboy hat and bandana.

"Do NOT publish these! Your friend, Newt Gingrich," he signed the pictures, while doing so recalling a story about the latter photograph that still irks him today.

In January 1995, the New York Times was pointing out childhood similarities between Gingrich and then-President Bill Clinton, the pair growing up during an era "when postwar American horizons stretched forever, (and) a boy could grow up to be anything he wanted - President of the United States, even. Or if he could think really big, Speaker of the House.

"But first he wanted to be a cowboy," said the newspaper, reproducing side-by-side in its Sunday edition childhood photos of Clinton and Gingrich, both dressed up as cowboys.

"As their futures unfold," said the newspaper, "the similarities of their pasts may fall away and their differences become more sharply defined. But if one searches these early portraits for clues, at least one difference is evident already: Newt has a gun."

"Can you believe that?" asked Gingrich, the observation from 11 years ago still fresh in his mind. "They actually saw fit to point out that I'm the one - not Bill Clinton - holding a gun."

KERRY YOUR GUN

"For Sale: A piece of authentic political memorabilia that played a role in deciding the outcome of the 2004 presidential campaign!"

Fans of the Second Amendment have one week left to visit eBay and bid on a large National Rifle Association banner - displayed at rallies and gun shows as it crisscrossed battleground states in the final, frantic month of the campaign - warning Americans that Democratic candidate John Kerry would take away your guns.

"While bumper stickers and pins are good ways to show support for a candidate, races for president do not hinge upon messages as simple as Vote for Bush," reads the auction copy. "In the closely fought 2004 presidential contest every vote counted, especially in swing states such as Ohio and West Virginia."

In the seller's mind, the nylon banner, measuring 8 feet by 4 feet, "is a valuable piece of history." If desired, the high bidder can have the banner autographed by the NRA's top lobbyist and chairman of its Political Victory Fund, Chris W. Cox.

MOWING GRASSROOTS

Activist groups and think tanks are none too happy about provisions in congressional lobby reform bills that take aim at grassroots lobbying and citizen activists.

This week, a grassroots group called the LobbySense Coalition, headed by Kerri Houston of Frontiers of Freedom, released a scathing statement opposing provisions in two lobby bills proposed by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Democrats Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada and Barack Obama of Illinois.

These bills, considered a reaction to the Jack Abramoff lobby scandal, add onerous reporting restrictions, take aim at the ability of grassroots groups to mobilize quickly, and remove current privacy protections for contributors, critics charge.

"This is like arresting the neighbors, instead of the burglar," says Houston. "Grassroots activism is an integral part of the American fabric of freedom, and no one in the grassroots community had a part in the Abramoff mess, so why is Congress picking on us?"

The statement is signed by more than 50 national and state groups, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Tom Schatz of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, American Values' Gary Bauer and Ann Stone of  Republicans for Choice.

AWARD FOR TERROR?

There's no better time to point out the "craziness of Hollywood."

So says Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of the Israel Project in Washington, noting that the Academy Awards on Sunday could give best foreign film honors to "Paradise Now" - a script where "the good guys are the suicide bombers."

("Paradise Now" has already been awarded a Golden Globe by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.)

Mizrahi is a close friend to Yossi Zur, who lost his 16-year-old son to a suicide bomber in Israel on March 5, 2003, exactly three years before this year's Hollywood awards night. He's now worried about the message the film sends, noting that it follows the path of two young Palestinians from the moment they decided to strap on bombs to when they board a bus crowded with children, a story the world knows all too well.

"My son Asaf was almost 17 years old, an 11th-grader studying computer sciences, when one day after school he boarded a bus in Israel to return home. On the way, a suicide bomber from Hebron, 21 years old and himself a computer sciences student in the Hebron Polytechnic, also boarded the bus and blew himself up," says Mr. Zur. He is concerned that the movie condones murderous bombings as a legitimate tactic for those who feel they've exhausted all other means.