Tim Russert: A Custodian's leave

Custodian’s leave

"I view it very much as a national treasure, and I am the temporary custodian and try to take care of it, and hopefully pass it off in good shape one day."

-Tim Russert, in an interview with this columnist on Nov. 14, referring to NBC’s "Meet the Press," the most watched Sunday morning interview program in America and the most quoted news program in the world, which he began moderating in 1991.

Seduced again

"Sleep well in Chappaqua, Hillary Clinton."

So begins an op-ed piece sent first to this columnist, written by Rosalie Osias, chairwoman of the global-population provider Osias Foundation of Great Neck, N.Y.

"You didn’t personally fail in your lost bid for the Democratic presidential nomination," Ms. Osias opines. "Your bickering advisors didn’t fail you. Your morphing messages didn’t fail you. Even your blundering political dinosaur of a husband didn’t fail your campaign."

Ouch! So what failed Mrs. Clinton?

"American women failed Hillary Clinton," she continues. "In a political tragedy not seen since the Women’s Christian Temperance Union pushed that fatally flawed social experiment, Prohibition, this enormously powerful voting bloc has become a fragmented, disoriented and confused force that just abdicated its political future for a generation.

"With genuine power within our grasp, with American history about to be rewritten by a woman, enough of us became so distracted, even seduced, by a charismatic male that we destroyed this unprecedented opportunity."

The foundation’s chairwoman says Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy "represented a new era to every woman who works, every woman who has a vision for her daughter, and every woman who contemplates her own professional potential. … We had come to think that this was the time, this was the place and this was the woman who would create that new chapter in American democracy. And then Democratic women across the country punted."

Now, Ms. Osias urges the New York senator to "run, don’t walk, from any talk of becoming vice president. Instead, own the Senate. Seek to become the majority leader of the United States Senate based on the mandate that 18 million Americans voted for you during the primary process. … Make the women who supported you during this failed primary bid particularly proud of what happens next."

As for the senator’s husband?

"Observe in spirit and fact … the public policy excommunication of Bill Clinton from any of your Senate deliberations. He represents his own agenda, not that of your supporters," she says.

Inflation giving

When it comes to opening up their wallets, Democrats would appear to be more excited than Republicans about this November’s presidential election. Or are they?

The Federal Election Commission says thus far in the 2008 election cycle contributions to the Democratic Party have increased significantly: $247 million, a jump of 45 percent compared with the 2004 cycle. Republican receipts, on the other hand, declined 19 percent when compared to 2004.

Nevertheless, Republicans somehow have still managed to raise more money than Democrats during this 2008 election cycle, or just over $260 million as of April 30.

The FEC’s figures also reveal that individuals are by far the largest source of federal funds for each party: 86 percent for Republicans, 77 percent for Democrats. Both sides can thank the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act for that spike, which increased the limit individuals can give to $25,000 – adjusted for inflation, mind you.

In other words, the inflation-adjusted limit for the current election cycle is $28,500, according the FEC.

No eavesdropping

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein remains "amazed" by all the public intrigue surrounding the recent secret meeting held in her Washington residence between Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and onetime rival Barack Obama.

"What really happened?" Mrs. Feinstein, appearing at a book party for broadcaster and pundit Bill Press at The Monocle on Capitol Hill, quoted inquisitors as asking. "Did you listen in?"

"Did you?" wondered Mr. Press, amid laughter from party attendees.

"No!" Mrs. Feinstein shot back.

The Democratic senator explained that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama sat alone in two living room chairs facing one another while she was upstairs working. The candidates then called her downstairs after their hour-long meeting ended at 10 p.m., at which time she bid them good night. 

Nunn better

The man Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and former head of CNN and Time magazine, would like to see selected as Sen. Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate: former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn.

Also a favorite No. 2 pick of former President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Nunn endorsed Mr. Obama for president in April, issuing a statement saying the Illinois senator understands more than others that the country has lost its "ability to build consensus."

"Demonizing the opposition, oversimplifying the issues, and dumbing down the political debate prevent our country from coming together to make tough decisions and tackle our biggest challenges," said Mr. Nunn, a top authority on U.S. defense who believes "new ideas from both political parties" are required in the coming presidency.

"On foreign policy and security policy, we must recognize that we are not limited to a choice between belligerency and isolation and that we must listen to lead successfully on the key issues facing America and the world," said Mr. Nunn, 69, who served four Senate terms ending in 1997. "Our next president must also recognize that the battle against violent terrorists, while requiring a prudent use of military power, is also a long-term contest of psychology and ideas."

Cuban postcard

Get a load of some of these excerpts from the new book by U.S. Army Maj. Kyndra Rotunda, a former military lawyer who served on the prosecution team in Guantanamo Bay, where she was legal adviser to an elite team of war-crimes investigators.

Titled "Honor Bound: Inside the Guantanamo Trials," the book, among other eye-opening tidbits, contains some unlikely observations from several terrorist detainees, including one who apparently didn’t want to leave the otherwise-notorious U.S. military detention facility in Cuba:

"Not surprisingly, the Army reviews detainee mail. The detainee’s letter included poetic verses about the nice weather and the beautiful sunsets over Guantanamo Bay. He closed the letter by saying something like, ‘Wish you were here!’" she writes.

"Later I heard about a detainee who the Army offered to release. But, when it informed the detainee, he said, ‘No thanks. The weather will be nicer in my country next spring. I’ll wait until then.’ "

Then there was the "Australian Taliban" who Maj. Rotunda says demanded – and received – a fancy suit of clothes, paid for by American taxpayers, to wear to court.

"[David] Hicks’ defense team filed a lengthy motion to prohibit the prosecutors from forcing the defendant to wear prison clothes at his trial," she explains. "The motion was unnecessary because the accused was never required to wear a prison uniform to hearings. In fact, he wore an $800 Brooks Brothers suit – paid for by the U.S. government."

As for the treatment of terrorist detainees at the camp, she describes how the prisoners "live in open bays, eat their meals outside together around picnic tables and serve themselves in home-style fashion from large, communal pots.

"Camp Four offers both soccer fields and basketball courts. The U.S. government offers a selection of basketball shoes for detainees upon request," she adds. "Ohio treats its prisoners more harshly than the military treats detainees in Guantanamo."

As for background, Maj. Rotunda, a Judge Advocate General officer in the U.S. Army Individual Ready Reserve, works in private practice, devoting much of her time to advocating for wounded troops and military families. She’s represented hundreds of soldiers before their disability boards at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

She was welcomed to the Heritage Foundation for a noon book lecture Monday hosted by former Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III.

Sign of times

We have to laugh at the disclaimer on a written invitation to a happy hour received of late from one well-known Washington lobbyist: "This event is carbon neutral. No tomatoes will be served at this event."

Church and state

Right but not religious?

British policy analyst Matthew Sinclair observes on his Internet blog: "Fifty-three percent of Americans see religion as an important part of their lives against just 21 percent of Britons. Eighty percent of Americans believe there is a God against 39 percent of Britons (I didn’t know Britain had an atheist/agnostic majority). We wouldn’t care if the prime minister were an atheist, Americans would care if the president were one. …

"I don’t think, as some American conservatives suggest, that you can’t be conservative without being religious. I’m conservative and not religious, so clearly it is possible."

‘Redneck boy’

It’s obviously OK for somebody to refer to themself as "redneck," but as NBC senior reporter Andrea Mitchell learned firsthand in recent days, don’t stereotype an entire population in such derogatory fashion.

Perhaps you read where the highly respected TV journalist apologized to MSNBC viewers last week after referring to southwestern Virginia – where Democratic Sen. Barack Obama was campaigning for president – as "real redneck." The Bristol Herald Courier newspaper responded in kind that the region "doesn’t deserve to be the butt of jokes."

Now, on the heels of that apology, we’re asked to give mention to former actor-turned-Georgia Democratic Rep. Ben L. Jones’ just-published book, "Redneck Boy in the Promised Land: The Confessions of Crazy Cooter."

Mr. Jones, perhaps best known for his role in popular TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard," writes in his tome: "Not many congressmen grew up in shacks without electricity or indoor plumbing, with rats scurrying about. I did. Not many were deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement. I was. Not many were jailed a dozen times for drunken, violent behavior ….

"And not many can claim to be the person who put the ‘kibosh’ on Newt Gingrich’s career in Congress."

Dripping Gore

Besides baseball, one of Washington’s favorite summer pastimes is opening the invitation to political pollster Frank Luntz’s annual Major League Baseball "All-Star Party" at his McLean home and reading the Top Ten Reasons to Attend.

Our favorite pair of reasons: "See this year’s baseball All Stars before they become next year’s congressional witnesses" and "For kicks, let’s see if an ice sculpture of Al Gore can survive nine innings."

A well-known collector of virtually every form of memorabilia, Mr. Luntz also shows off his latest acquisitions to his VIP guests. Among this year’s stash is a shirt worn by John Wayne in "The Green Berets" and an original costume from the Civil War movie classic "Gone With The Wind." 

Georgetown ghosts

We ducked into a crowded Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, where sipping pints of beer at the bar were several groups of tourists pointing to the occupied wooden booths that overlook Wisconsin Avenue and N Street NW. Instead of seeing patrons dining there, they saw ghosts.

"That’s booth number three where they got engaged," a woman whispered to her husband, referring to what is now known as "The Proposal Booth." There, on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday in June of 1953 – having just returned to Washington from covering the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II for the Washington Times Herald – the young Jacqueline Bouvier accepted John F. Kennedy’s proposal of marriage.

Following Mass at nearby Holy Trinity Catholic Church, however, Kennedy preferred to sit in Booth No. 1 – "The Rumble Seat" – to read his Sunday newspaper while ordering brunch.

Richard M. Nixon, meanwhile, not only liked to sit in Booth No. 2, he had a hankering for Martin’s meatloaf. That table is now called "The Nixon Booth."

A few seats away is Booth No. 6, "The Truman Booth," where Harry S. Truman often dined with his wife Bess and daughter Margaret.

"Margaret wrote 14 mystery novels set in Washington and many of her novels include Martin’s Tavern," the restaurant recalls, including the best-seller "Murder in Georgetown," where on page 58 it reads: "She seemed anxious to comply and they arranged to meet at seven at Martin’s Tavern."

If those historic booths are all taken, diners of Martin’s Tavern might settle for Booth No. 24, "The LBJ Booth," where Lyndon B. Johnson regularly huddled with longtime House Speaker Sam Rayburn.