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George Unplugged

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Noted historian and best-selling author James Swanson and his wife, Andrea, invited guests into their Capitol Hill home over the weekend to celebrate the release of a new book about Abraham Lincoln by former senator and 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern.

One guest, who had lived in North Carolina, told Mr. McGovern that he supported him for president three decades ago, despite being warned by his conservative neighbors: "If you vote for George McGovern, the country will go to hell."

"Well, I voted for George McGovern, and the country did go to hell," Mr. McGovern, in later remarks to the crowd, quoted the guest as saying - referring, obviously, to the disgraced Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Otherwise, as far as not winning the White House, Mr. McGovern had the crowd, including former TV newsman Roger Mudd, laughing in hysterics when recalling former President Bill Clinton once telling him after the fact: "You know, you can get into trouble in that Oval Office."

The former Democratic senator turned serious when cautioning President Obama not to go through with his plans to increase U.S. military strength in Afghanistan by 30,000 troops.

"It would be a dreadful mistake," Mr. McGovern warned. "It would be moving U.S. soldiers from the frying pan into the fryer."


Former Clinton White House chief of staff and California congressman Leon E. Panetta was confirmed by the Senate to become CIA director and has now been privately sworn-in before a small group on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters.

The oath was administered to Mr. Panetta by CIA deputy director Steve Kappes (there will be a formal swearing-in ceremony at the CIA this week).

The 70-year-old Mr. Panetta got plenty of laughs when telling his invited guests: "I noticed in the press that they said I'm the oldest director to take charge of the CIA, but I would remind you that the 'best dog in show' this year [at last week's 133rd Westminster Kennel Club dog show] was a dog that was 10 years old. So I come here as the best dog in show."

The other dog was "Stump," the first Sussex spaniel to win the top pooch award. The previous oldest winner, crowned in 1999, was an 8-year-old Papillon.

Mr. Panetta's predecessor, retired four-star Gen. Michael V. Hayden, was 61 when he became CIA director in 2006.


"I remember a time when the airlines used to lose my bags for free."

So quipped (actually, he was dead serious) best-selling author and NBC "Today Show" travel editor Peter Greenberg while dining at DC Coast on Sunday night with a few fellow frequent fliers, including Keith Bellows, National Geographic Traveler's editor-in-chief, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Christina Erland Culver of Culver Strategies and C/H Global Strategies.

Actually, Mr. Greenberg, called the nation's pre-eminent expert on the travel experience - packing to unpacking - doesn't lug his suitcases to the airline counter and check them. He ships them ahead of time to his destination, hotel room or home, and he was doing so long before airlines began charging costly luggage fees.

"As I always say, there are only two kinds of luggage: carry-on and lost," he pointed out, naming several dedicated luggage-shipping companies, as well as UPS, FedEx and DHL.

(Note: On Sunday, Mr. Greenberg will be correspondent for a one-hour NBC "Dateline" special surrounding the 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde. After an intensive eight-year investigation, the French government in July charged Continental Airlines with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the crash. "For the first time, we're going to tell people what really happened when the Concorde crashed in Paris," Mr. Greenberg said.).


The new chairman of the Republican National Committee, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, recently headlined the Republican Women's Federal Forum at the Capitol Hill Club, and suffice to say he stole the show.

The dining room was packed, and following Mr. Steele's rousing speech he was afforded a long standing ovation by the GOP ladies. In fact, he was stormed by the admirers to the point that, according to one observer, "it looked like a mosh pit!"

Eventually, the group's chairman, Judy Black, grabbed the microphone and requested that the crowd of women allow Mr. Steele to leave the room because he had other appointments to keep.

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