- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Rocking the nation

He might not be the most popular Republican among conservatives, but Sen. John McCain of Arizona is a favorite among young Americans.

One day after Mr. McCain went on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” to say regarding the filibuster struggle that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee “couldn’t quite carry it off” (the Republican said the far right and far left were interested only in “a battle to win supremacy,” not the fight over judges), we learned yesterday that he’s been chosen to receive Rock the Vote’s 2005 “Rock the Nation” award.

Other honorees at the June 8 awards gala will be former President Bill Clinton, who will receive the group’s lifetime achievement award, Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, and the band Black Eyed Peas.

Founded in 1990, Rock the Vote’s mission is to build “political power” for young Americans. Last year, 4.5 million more 18- to 29-year-olds voted than in 2000.

Help me, Rhonda

President Bush this week named Rhonda Keenum as White House director of public liaison — on top of everything else.

“She is living the life of a four-armed circus act,” says one acquaintance, observing that in the past year Mrs. Keenum and her husband, Mark Keenum, chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, became the proud parents of triplets — Katie, Rett and Mary Phillips.

How do they do it?

“We just do it, we don’t ask questions,” Mr. Keenum says of the couple’s hat trick, born on Sept. 17, 2004. “We have good help, but it takes the two of us when we are both there.”

Most recently, Mrs. Keenum served as assistant secretary for trade promotion and director general of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service, where she managed operations assisting U.S. companies in exporting and succeeding in global markets. Prior to joining the Bush administration, she was senior vice president of Edelman Public Relations.

Pipes and piano

That was White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and other Washington dignitaries filing past four spirited bagpipers — flown in hours earlier from Jordan — into the Great Hall of the Library of Congress for the 59th Independence Day celebration of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

In a conversation with this columnist, Mr. Card was high on praise for Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his wife, Queen Rania, for their ongoing efforts to secure peace in the Middle East. Jordan has remained predominantly peaceful throughout its history, despite the country being sandwiched between conflict (it borders Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories).

Invited guests Wednesday evening were treated to a standing-ovation piano recital by 24-year-old Jordanian composer and pianist Zade (Dirani). Zade was appointed by the government of Jordan as one of six achievers leading the country into a new era. (In his introduction of the pianist, Jordanian Ambassador Karim Kawar called him his country’s leading “cultural ambassador.”)

Dedicating his music to building bridges of peace and tolerance, Zade, who has performed before Queen Elizabeth II and former South African President Nelson Mandela, recalled that he was scheduled to perform in rural Maine on the evening of September 11, 2001, when life for him and millions of other Middle Easterners changed overnight.

Within days of the terrorist attacks, he started a house concert tour across America, performing an average of 200 nights per year in living rooms, churches, temples, schools and hospitals — “a very humble grass-roots effort to create a better understanding” in the West of his Middle Eastern culture, Zade said.

His second album, “Roads to You,” was released last June and climbed to near the top of the Billboard charts.

Quote of the week

“Someday you will appreciate the grammar and verbal skills you learned here. And if any of you wonder how far a mastery of the English language can take you, just look what it did for me.”

— President Bush’s commencement address of this past week at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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