The 'Mere Mortals Who Lead Us'

Talk about timing: Tuesday is the official release date of Peggy Noonan’s latest book (the former Ronald Reagan aide has seven best-sellers under her belt), and from what she writes don’t expect any miracle healers to surface on Capitol Hill and cure the current economic crisis.

The book, "Patriotic Grace," follows the American struggle since Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans came together as never before, only to then usher in seven years of divisiveness. The author admonishes at one point, "We should leave behind the bitterness and blame: they are empty wells."

But she warns, at the same time, not to put too much faith or place too many demands on our elected leaders, as "a lot of voters do seem to want them to pretend to higher wisdom that they possess."

"We have been asking a great deal of the mere mortals who lead us," Miss Noonan notes. "I would like to think many senators and congressmen, and I know some of them, sometimes go out and have a drink with friends and give vent to their surprise and dismay: ‘I’m just a guy who loved politics! I buy my suits at Moe’s Big and Tall! I’m not a theologian, I’m not a scientist! You shouldn’t make me make these decisions! I’m stupider than you understand!’"


The mixed bag of voting methods and systems in the 2006 general election varied across the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and is not expected to change substantially for the 2008 general election.

So reveals the Government Accountability Office, pointing out that each local jurisdiction certifies the reliability of their systems, in some cases conducting post-election audits.

But, says the GAO, "Notwithstanding their system approval and testing efforts, most states, territories, and the District nevertheless have reported experiencing problems on Election Day. While these entities largely described the problems as isolated and having minimal impact, a few reported that they experienced problems that were more widespread and significant.

"However, the full scope of the problems that may have been experienced is not clear because states and others reported that local jurisdictions were generally not required to report problems."


Speaking of unreliable voting machines, this columnist in recent days was honored to donate to the Newseum in Washington one of the actual Votomatic voting machines, complete with thousands of tiny chads, used in Palm Beach County, Fla., during the infamous 2000 presidential election.

"Property of Supervisor of Elections Palm Beach County Florida," the worn sticker on the outside of the contraption read.

We even turned over for public viewing three dozen worthless paper ballots from the November 7 election (just for fun, we punched a hole for Al Gore), as well as instructions for voting:

"Step 1: Using both hands, insert the ballot card all the way into the vote recorder. Step 2: Be sure the two slots in the end of your card fit down over the two red pins. Step 3: To vote, hold the voting instrument straight up. Punch straight down through the ballot card for the candidates or issues of your choice. Do not use pen or pencil. Step 4: Vote appropriate pages. Legal time limit for voting is 5 minutes.

"Important notice to voters: be sure all holes are cleanly punched. Pull off any partially punched ‘chips’ that might be hanging."


William F. Marshall of Clifton, Va., writes: "Returning from California for a business trip, I discovered that my McCain/Palin bumper sticker on my car, which had been parked at Dulles Airport for two days, had been scraped up with what appeared to be a razor blade.

"Apart from being annoyed at the damage to the sticker and the paint job underneath, I didn’t think too much about it until I heard reporting that the Obama campaign has reportedly sent ‘patrols’ to walk around parking lots looking for cars with GOP/conservative bumper stickers …

"Interestingly, on my bumper sticker, it was Palin’s name that had been scraped out the most, not McCain."


We’re told that Virginia Sen. John W. Warner will host a reception with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Oct. 13, at the Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner in suburban Washington.

To get in the door costs $1,500 — or $2,500, if you bring a friend or spouse. But don’t pull out your camera: posing with the Republican vice-presidential candidate will require shelling out $10,000.

If that’s not enough to spend, write a check for $25,000 and you can eat dinner with Mrs. Palin. There’s no moose meat on the Ritz menu, but the hotel serves a mean pork cheek.


His resume reveals involvement in eight presidential campaigns, starting in 1976, focusing particularly on debate preparation.

He played the role of George H.W. Bush in mock debates with Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988.

In 2000 and 2004, respectively, he assumed the persona of Dick Cheney in practice debates with Joe Lieberman and John Edwards.

For more than 20 times during the 1992 campaign he sparred with Bill Clinton in his debate preparation; in 2008, he assisted Hillary Rodham Clinton as she geared up for a whopping 23 primary debates.

Curious where he now stands, we reached Washington lawyer Robert B. Barnett at his Williams & Connolly office, and while he’s not playing the part of John McCain as Barack Obama undergoes  preparations for this season’s presidential debates, he assured us that he is involved in other capacities. He declined to be specific.

Alan Schroeder, author of "Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk TV," and an associate professor at Northeastern University, told this columnist in a telephone interview from Boston: "Barnett probably has been the stand-in debater for more candidates than anyone in history."


"When there is a fire in your kitchen threatening to burn down your home, you don’t want someone stopping the firefighters on the way and demanding they hand out smoke detectors first or lecturing you about the hazards of keeping paint in the basement. You want them to put out the fire before it burns down your home and everything you have saved for your whole life."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, addressing the current economic crisis and why Congress had to take immediate action to try to head off a serious blow to Main Street and this columnist’s 401(k).


"Today, we laid an American hero to rest."

One of just several tributes paid in recent days to retired Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Charles W. "Chuck" Dryden, this one by author and playwright Janet Langhart Cohen, wife of former Defense Secretary William Cohen, following the Arlington National Cemetery interment of the legendary World War II and Korean War pilot.

"I loved … how he had wanted to fly airplanes since he was a young boy," former President Bill Clinton recalled in a letter to the Dryden family. Similar condolences were sent by President Bush, who had conferred the Congressional Gold Medal on Lt. Col. Dryden and other surviving Tuskegee Airmen in March 2007.

Extremely proud to be among the few black pilots flying for the U.S. Army Air Corps in his P-40 nicknamed "A-Train," then-Lt. Dryden on June 9, 1943, found himself leading a black-only squadron of six pilots that encountered enemy aircraft over Sicily. As his obituary states, it was the first time in aviation history that black American pilots engaged aircraft in combat.

Nevertheless, as Lt. Col. Dryden once told Mrs. Cohen, even after he had fought two wars in his U.S. military uniform, "he would come home to fight again – that ugly American racism," as she put it during a funeral reception at the Fort Myer Officers’ Club.

In his book "A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman," Lt. Col. Dryden talks of the racial divides and hatred that he encountered at home and abroad during his 21-year military career, solely because of his skin color. He wasn’t alone, by any means.

Mr. Cohen, a former Republican senator from Maine, told this columnist Wednesday that his wife’s father, Sewell Bridges, dared not be caught wearing his World War II uniform in public when he came home from duty. Mr. Cohen, in his remarks Wednesday, turned to the epilogue of the pilot’s book to read the words of British statesman Edmund Burke: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely."

"How lovely would my country be if its actions did not belie its brave words that ‘all men are created equal’ and that in this ‘land of the free’ there are ‘liberty and justice for all,’" wrote Lt. Col. Dryden.

"I have fought in two wars for my America because I have loved its lovely principles," he said. "Happily, its principles have thrilled me and filled me with emotion each time I stood stiffly at attention and saluted the flag during morning reveilles and evening retreats on military posts around the world."

German prisoners of war, he recalled, received better treatment than his fellow black American soldiers returning home from war. Still, he had told Mrs. Cohen before his death, he would not hesitate fighting for his country all over again.

The retired Air Force officer died June 24 at age 87. His son, Eric Dryden, announced Wednesday the incorporation of the A-Train Legacy Foundation, to keep his father’s legacy alive by developing humanity through aviation: