Captital Letters: Theaters of Operation

In which our man in Washington encounters show business, Beltway-style, rides uncomfortably into the sunset, and observes "the work of the American people."

Subj: A Day on theBeat
Date: Thu, Sep 17, 1998 7:49 PM EDT

Yesterday was a day of policy and political multitasking. It started well for your humble correspondent, with NPR blaring in the bedroom, C-SPAN's Washington Journal occupying the living room TV, and The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Wall Street Journal on the dining room table. As I read the Post's semi-special scandal section, I thought to myself, "This must be why I went to college." It got even better when my lovely wife delivered a plate of her ho-me-made "ap-ple crumble," a concoction similar to apple pie, topped with vanilla fro-zen yogurt.

Knowing I had a long day ahead, I also fueled up with some oat-meal before heading out the door to the Heritage Foundation, where the National Immigration Forum and Empower America were sponsoring an event on "A Conservative View of Immigration." Jack Kemp was the day's first speaker. Along with Bill Bennett, he opposed California's Proposition 187, an initiative widely perceived as being anti-immigrant, but whose backers will maintain was only inspired by animus towards illegal immigrants. (This legal vs. illegal immigrant-the former good, the latter bad-is an important distinction for conservatives, as anything that violates a law, be it crossing a border to work or smoking a joint to relieve pain, is to be condemned.)

"This is probably not the most important meeting going on in Washington," said Kemp alluding to a meeting just a few blocks away in which our elected representatives were deciding whether to release Ken Starr's $40 million video titled, Your President, a Squirmy Liar.

But Kemp was passionate neverthe- less. He has a reputation for going on a bit long. But I can say this about the man: He is a master gesticulator, a skill he has no doubt honed on the campaign trail. He never commits a "mixed gesticulation," which, like its cousin the mixed metaphor (falling through the roof), is when an unpracticed speaker moves her hands up, for exam-ple, when saying "Falling through the floor." And Kemp appears to have a signature move. With his arms bent 90 degrees at the elbow and his palms parallel with fingers spread, Kemp rattles off an emphatic point, such as "God bless America," closing one finger with each word, as if to place a staccato over it.

What I always enjoy about Jack Kemp speeches (perhaps because I haven't heard that many) are their eclectic nature and Rea-gan-esque themes. Both were on display yesterday. Kemp referred often to "Ronnie" and his optimistic vision. He spoke of Marian Anderson, the black wo-man denied an opportunity to sing at Con-s--titution Hall. He quoted Adam Smith. And he managed to devote considerable time to the evils of the International Monetary Fund, not exactly on topic, but interesting nonetheless. I learned, for example, that members of the Ukrainian choir who sang last Sunday at Kemp's church had their life savings drop from $20,000 to 60 cents due to IMF-prompted currency devaluation.

Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), the next speaker, started with a laugh line. "I always get nervous if I'm speaking after Jack Kemp and he says, `I've just got one last point.'"

Abraham, whose grandparents on both sides emigrated from Lebanon, speaks from the heart on this issue. He, too, supports "legal" immigration, knowing first-hand that the best Americans are often found among the self-selected ones. Said Abraham, citing Manhattan Institute statistics, "Compared to native-born Americans, [immigrants] are more likely to have intact families, they are more likely to have college degrees, they are more likely to be working, and they are no more likely to commit crimes." (They are also more likely to dry clean one's clothes, mow one's lawn, or drive one to the airport.)

My next meeting was off the record, so no mention of it here. I emerged at roughly noon and headed back to my office. After checking my voice mail, e-mail, and snail mail, I grabbed my sandwich-turkey on a French roll-and headed to Lafayette Park where it was rumored that a group of concerned Americans were going to be holding a "Wag the Dog" protest rally. This was a "pseudo event," one that exists solely for the purpose of being broadcast on television or affecting a print story, like this one.

Conservatives are concerned that Clinton will veto next year's appropriations bills, shut down the government, and blame the Republicans for it (sound familiar?) in order to take the focus off his "private life." They want the press, and the public, to start thinking along these lines so Clinton, not Congress, will get the blame. Earlier in the day, I had suggested a slogan that I thought might earn some TV time: "Mr. President, just because you spanked the monkey, don't wag the dog." Whether anyone used it or not, I don't know, since I arrived a half hour late and missed the entire rally.

I wasn't the only one who arrived late. Kathryn Serkes of the Coalition for the Resignation of the President, a pseudo group, also missed the rally. This was quite unfortunate, as Serkes is a founder of the Presidential Moving Co., a pseudo company, and was hoping to drum up some business by offering an "Impeachment Special"-a free move to any president who resigns. She even had a pseudo contract printed up, offering to move, among other things, "800+ FBI files" and "3 boxes used cigars." She couldn't find parking for her moving van.

I was planning to cap the day by attending an event at the Cato Institute for Clint Bolick's new book, Transformation, at 4 p.m. But I was booked to appear on a radio show at 6 p.m. on Monicagate, and I decided it best to study up before opining for an hour on the topic. Not much of note on the radio show, except for one woman caller who reasoned that women weren't upset at the president because they expect men to cheat on their wives and then lie about it. She was fairly certain, however, that her husband wasn't among these men.

Subj: Willie & Me
Date: Fri, Sep 18, 1998 10:58 AM EDT

Heading home from the National Press Club yesterday, where the Institute for Justice hosted a splendid luncheon to kick off Clint Bolick's book tour, I noticed a familiar-looking rotund man standing in front of the fence that separates the north side of the White House from the rest of the world. He was wearing a New York Yankees hat, smoking a butt, looking into TV a camera, and surrounded by a small group of people-not an unusual scene, except perhaps the smoking in public, since this is a convenient place for the non-credentialed to film with the White House as a backdrop. But this particular cigarette-puffing correspondent was Michael Moore, whom I know only from the annoying but entertaining film Roger & Me, but who I believe has made quite a career out of left-wing gonzo journalism/entertainment. I pulled out my notebook and decided to stick around.

There's a "moving van backed up to the White House," Moore said into the camera, as he told a tale of a Republican coup d'etat. (Indeed there was a moving van parked close to the door, a conventional 10-wheeler cab hooked to a low-bed van. Perhaps someone underbid Kathryn Serkes.) He then launched into a segment that made me wonder if he was on assignment for the online magazine Salon. He warned that he was going to investigate the sex lives of all "585 members of Congress." He had to film this segment over, after one of his producers informed him that there are 535 members of Congress.

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