Large Mouths and Wellington Stew

Posted: Sep 18, 2007 3:38 PM

Large mouths

Given cries of careless rhetoric unleashed by Capitol Hill critics when it comes to fighting the war in Iraq, Inside the Beltway is forced to update its file on "self-control," adding these words from Harry S. Truman: "In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves ... Self-discipline with all of them came first."

Then there's the big-brotherly advice that D.C. trial lawyer Bob Bennett once gave to his brother, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, when the latter was an outspoken new member of the Reagan administration and, or so he later acknowledged to Time magazine, "underestimated the size of the microphone I had."

"He's got this big fish mounted in his office," Bill Bennett said of his big brother, the lawyer, "and he said, 'You know why that fish is up there? Because he opened his mouth, that's why.' "

Wellington stew

As last week's "Iraqi surge" testimony by Gen. David H. Petraeus continues to settle around the District's corridors of power, readers weigh in on the sentiments expressed in 1863 by another famous general, Robert E. Lee, who opined of armchair warriors like those in Congress today: "I am readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects."

"Great citation of the Lee letter," writes one Inside the Beltway reader, who notes, as we did, that Lee's telling line is often mistakenly attributed to the first duke of Wellington, Sir Arthur Wellesley.

"Wellington's name comes up only because he was equally disdainful of commentators," noted the reader, who forwarded a letter the duke wrote during the Napoleonic Wars to the British Parliament:

"Gentlemen: Whilst marching to Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your request, which has been sent to HM ship from London to Lisbon and then by dispatch rider to our headquarters. We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty's government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.

"Unfortunately, the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion's petty cash, and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensive carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstances since we are at war with France, a fact which may have come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

"This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty's Government, so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue one with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both.

"1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London, or perchance

"2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

"Your most obedient servant, Wellington."


Enough said

Lloyd Grove, former gossip columnist of The Washington Post and New York Daily News, gets veteran New York congressman and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel to open up about his perceived stormy relationship with Vice President Dick Cheney, which the Democrat said is nothing more than political posturing.

"If we sat next to each other, which we have, I don't think that we could think of anything unkind to say about each other — unless there was a reporter there," Mr. Rangel explained.

But the instigative Mr. Grove, in his interview posted on Conde Nast's, egged-on the congressman, recalling that Mr. Cheney "said you were losing it, and you said he was mean and nasty."

"The guy that runs around shooting friends with a gun," agreed Mr. Rangel. Then he added on second thought: "He has enough problems without me piling on."

Brave fan

"What can I offer you to keep it out of your column?"

Or so tried Terry Eastland, publisher of the Weekly Standard, reaching for his wallet after being spotted giving a standing ovation to the visiting Atlanta Braves baseball team at RFK Stadium. The Braves took two of three games played over the weekend against our Washington Nationals, spurred on by Mr. Eastland, sporting a well-worn Braves cap.