- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

Elian owes me

It's not often that political columnists have the opportunity to write about family members. This columnist suddenly has no choice. He only wishes he'd done it sooner.

Yesterday, I telephoned my brother, which I now realize I don't do often enough. I wanted to wish him a happy Father's Day (OK, he called to wish me one first and left a message).

If anybody deserves a happy Father's Day, it's my brother. The father of two daughters, he and his wife, Tami, tried one last time for a boy. Instead, from the same oven, popped triplets. Now they have three girls, two boys and a bigger farm.

"So, what's new?" I asked my sister-in-law, an avid equestrian.

"Not much," came the usual refrain, "although I did lead Elian Gonzalez around on our pony."

Long pause.

"Elian Gonzalez?"

"Yea, that little Cuban boy," she said.

Longer pause.

"On our pony?"

"Yes, Merrylegs," she said, obviously missing the magnitude of this particular pony ride.

"Elian Gonzalez was riding on Merrylegs?"

"Yes, and you probably shouldn't print this," she said, "but Elian's dad and his baby what a cute little thing also climbed up on the pony, and the saddle started to slide off."

"How horrible."

"Everybody was watching," she continued. "All their Cuban friends and lots of U.S. marshals."

I asked her to put my brother on the phone.

Nose for news

What better hotel than the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, where Monica Lewinsky got bugged about Bill Clinton and Marv Albert bit and got bitten, to convene the 24th Annual National Society of Newspaper Columnists Conference, for which this columnist was proud to serve as chairman.

"We weren't told you guys were coming," acknowledged one of a dozen heavily armed federal agents on hand to greet us.

As Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pulled into the hotel's driveway, police sharpshooters crouched on nearby rooftops peered incredulously through binoculars as the 70-plus scribes unloaded the tools of their trade: laptop computers, pretzels and cases of beer.

Baltimore Sun political columnist Jack Germond, author of "Fat Man in a Middle Seat," got the conference off to a rousing start by warning his colleagues not to be fooled by Hillary Rodham Clinton's foray into New York politics her latest notion of "entitlement."

"I think what she is doing is outrageous and indefensible," Mr. Germond said of the first lady's U.S. Senate candidacy. "She is clearly running for president here."

Among others taking stage, columnists and pundits alike, were Mary McGrory, Frank Luntz, Charles Cook, Suzanne Fields, Mona Charen, Tony Blankley, Marguerite Kelly, Clarence Page, Jennifer Laszlo, Deb Price, Don Lambro, Rich Galen, Richard McCaffery, Mary Lou Forbes, Peggy Hackman and Tony Snow, the latter conceding he's going to miss Bill Clinton come January.

Mr. Snow drew laughter by referring to Mr. Clinton as "Huckleberry Ghandi, because you never know which one is going to show up."

Former Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, a successful author who writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times, disclosed that in his early years he wanted to be the "Walter Lippmann of my generation."

A recently retired Democrat, Mr. Simon admonished Vice President Al Gore to quit following the polls "here, there and everywhere," and instead "reach down into himself and pull out whatever it is that he believes in."

Mr. Blankley, who is new to the syndicated writing trade, says his column will have less for fodder after Mr. Clinton's second term expires. He recalled that when as press secretary to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, he likened the president to Pinnochio.

A short time later, Mr. Blankley was told by a close friend of Mr. Clinton's that the president was highly offended by the remark. When Mr. Blankley tried to explain that he wasn't labeling the president an outright liar, the friend interrupted:

"Oh, he doesn't mind that everybody calls him a liar. It's just that the president is sensitive about the size of his nose."

Mirrors the polls

An electronic voting booth, privacy curtain and all, has been installed at the nonpartisan Newseum in Washington. Visitors are invited to vote for one of three presidential candidates: Bush, Gore, McReynolds (voters are not told who McReynolds is or if there even is one).

The tally thus far:

• Bush, 13,028.

• Gore, 11,099.

• McReynolds, 1,954.

Utmost apologies

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, sent his "humblest apologies" after a dozen duplicate news releases were e-mailed to the center's clients by its soon-to-be-fired Internet service provider.

"I have been assured by the technical people that this message will reach you only once I hope that turns out to be true," Mr. Krikorian added in his apology, of which there were 11 subsequent copies.

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