Tuesday, November 23, 2004

POLITICS

Attendees at the Clinton Library dedication got shelter from the storm.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 23, 2004 at 4:00 AM

SAFE HARBOR LITTLE ROCK -- At mid-morning last Thursday, with the dedication ceremonies of the Clinton Library just an hour or two away, a middle-aged couple sans credentials somehow managed to get through the several checkpoints designed to screen out visitors and approached the media pass-gate at the library site, which sat high up on a hill alongside the Arkansas River, a glassed-in structure which looked like an airport terminal on stilts.

ÒHi,Ó said the husband to the group of raincoated twenty-something security assistants, ÒweÕre from DeKalb, Illinois, and we just wanted to take a look.Ó Right. The deadlines for both ticketing and credentialing were long gone, and here were two folks Ð vacationers, as it were -- just happening by for a drop-in. Just like old times. ItÕs not happening, they were told. Not only was every semi-healthy former president scheduled to be on hand for the occasion, but so was the newly reelected George W. Bush himself.

ÒSo what!?Ó the wife said with unfeigned amazement. She went on to explain that she and her husband had been in Chicago some time back for a papal visit by John Paul II. ÒI mean, we saw the Pope. This is ridiculous!Ó

WellÉthe couple from DeKalb havenÕt been paying close enough attention. We live in dangerous times. A couple of decades ago, the aforesaid John Paul himself was the target of a would-be assassinÕs bullets. And in the age of Al Qaeda Ð especially in the wake of 9/11 Ð all public celebrations are potential variations on ÒThe Masque of the Red Death,Ó the Edgar Allan Poe story, set in the Italian Renaissance, about a doomed revelry going on in the middle of a plague

There was revelry in Little Rock last week, too. And, to lighten up a bit, nothing untoward happened. On Wednesday night, veteran Democratic activist Evelyn Still of Memphis huddled with other visitors behind rope lines in the lobby of Little RockÕs version of The Peabody, whooping and hollering with the others whenever a certifiable celebrity came into view, entering or leaving the plush hostelry.

ÒSo far, IÕve seen Bono and Nancy Sinatra and Tricia Nixon, and IÕve heard that Meg Ryan and Brad Pitt came by!Ó said Still, camera and autograph pad at the ready.

Just then came another high-decibel whoop, as a group including Jesse Jackson and Howard Dean entered. The ghost of Christmas past, and the ghost of last Christmas, politically speaking. That was followed by an even bigger yell as Ð who was it? Oh yeah, Geraldo! Fox News broadcaster Rivera, with a lady on his arm, both of them formally attired and beaming at the attention, had just arrived Ð headed, presumably, to one of the several glittering social affairs that took place in town all week, excluding the unticketed denizens of the rope line, of course .

ÒOh my God!Ó said a woman as a youngish man, clad in simple sport shirt, entered. She was alone in her shock of recognition, as this turned out to be Dave Casinelli of North Little Rock, a former pitcher for the New York Yankees. CasinelliÕs status was decidedly second-tier in a week in which, for example, one could be having dinner at the Double Tree Hotel and listening to William Cohen, a former senator and Secretary of Defesne under Clinton, discouse with a woman companion two tables over

.Audible natches of the conversation might have been table scraps from The New York PostÕs Page Six gossip fare: From Cohen: ÒHilary said that?Ó ÒOh, Vernon [Walters, a Clinton confidante] dropped by.Ó The woman (speaking of TVÕs John McLaughlin): ÒI call him Mack!Ó (To distinguish him from other Johns, seemed to be the idea.)

Not everything said by a celebrity was quite that superficial. Comedian/pundit/author/broadcaster Al Franken offered this commentary on the recent difficulties of his nemesis, Fox broadcaster Bill OÕReilly, whose network evidently paid millions in an undisclosed settlement that headed off a potential sexual-harassment suit.

ÒOh, he took a fall, all right,Ó said Franken -- the author of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, in which OÕReilly figures large -- with no small satisfaction.

What Franken was doing at just that juncture was inquiring at the affairÕs main media desk about missing credentials that should have been, but werenÕt, forwarded to himself and a colleague. That somebody as celebrated in Democratic circles as himself had this problem was a commentary of sorts on the tightness of security.

Al finally got his ducats, of course, as did such other stragglers as two print reporters from Memphis who, by dint of much struggle and special pleading, finally earned the right to stand, largely unshielded, in a cold rain for several hours on Thursday as various bands played and orators orated, as Bono and The Edge sang, and as other warm-up events (no pun intended, or applicable) took place.

Discomfort or no, however, it was worth being there on an occasion when George W. and all those other former chief executives Ð Clinton, the senior Bush, Jimmy Carter -- found it both convenient and timely to make nice with each other and to pretend, at least for a moment, that there was both comity and continuity in the affairs of the American state.

ÒA bad hair day,Ó jested Arkansas Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln early on, as, sheltered by an umbrella, she headed for rendezvous with a TV reporter. Yes, but a good day for democracy Ð all the potential chills, literal and metaphorical, notwithstanding.



Ron Reagan checks in with media credentials.


Arkansas senator Blanche Lincoln hoists the umbrella.
State Senator Jim Kyle of Memphis is new Democratic leader of the state Senate, having won a party caucus vote in Nashville last week. He supplants ChattanoogaÕs Ward Crutchfield, the longtime caucus head.

The ascendancy in the party hierarchy of of Kyle, a confidante of Governor Phil Bredesen, is yet another measure of the influence in that body of Bredesen, whose popularity remains high despite the governorÕs current stand-off with Tennessee Justice Center Gordon Bonnyman over whether and how to continue TennCare

.Bredesen continues to get mentions in the national media as a presidential prospects for 2008. ÒIf Bredesen doesn't make Democrats swoon, something has gone terribly wrong,Ó says the current New Republic, which rates the Tennessee governor as Òthe best potential presidential candidate among the Democrats' second tier of stars.Ó 8th District U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn was among the ÔAyeÕ voters on last weekÕs unrecorded tally of the House of Representatives Republican caucus, in which the GOP lawmakers amended their own rules to prevent the holder of a party leadership post from being removed, as was formerly the case, in the event of an indictment for a felony

The vote was on behalf of Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, one of the architects of GOP domination in the House and he impresario of a reapportionment move last year which is credited with added five new Republican seats to the partyÕs current majority.

DeLay is under legal scrutiny by a Texas grand jury, which has already indicted three of his political associates for improper use of political campaign money.

Blackburn, who is making a pre-Thanksgiving visit to American troops in Afghanistan, said through a spokesman in Washington that she believed expulsion from party office or committee chairmanships should not be a remedy except in case of conviction. She also has written the House Rules Committee, which has issued several previous admonishments to DeLay, asking that the committee reexamine its processes ÒtightenÓ its rules on admonishments.

3rd District U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga was one of several GOP congressmen who broke with the party majority on the rules changes. ÒIt sends all the wrong signals for us to change the current rules," said Wamp, who called in vain for a recorded secret ballot on the issue.

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