- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Half-baked Barbara

It’s not easy being the master of ceremonies for a roast when half of the roasters don’t show up.

Ask political commentator Mark Shields, who found himself in that uncomfortable position Wednesday evening as the Spina Bifida Association attempted to put TV personality Barbara Walters in the “hot seat” at the Hyatt Regency Washington.

“This is more like a bake-off,” a visibly embarrassed Mrs. Walters said after the roasting, expressing disappointment that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and fellow roaster Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana were no-shows.

As it was, the two remaining roasters — Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes and ABC newsman Sam Donaldson — went easy on Mrs. Walters, while last-second stand-in Mary Matalin, who was in the audience as Mrs. Hughes’ guest, tried to read from Mrs. Landrieu’s prepared remarks.

It got even worse at the close of the evening when organizers quickly dragged wires and cords on stage, hoping to patch through Mrs. Clinton by telephone, but to no avail. (Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Landrieu were said to be “detained” by official Senate duties.)

Nevertheless, the annual fundraising event — which had in the audience Washington power couples Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn and Alan Greenspan and Andrea Mitchell — accomplished its goal of raising awareness of the most common permanently disabling birth defect in this country.

What about my boat?

If you think it’s bad enough that the Internal Revenue Service collects your hard-earned tax dollars, imagine if an IRS agent prepared your income-tax returns, too.

No, we’re not joking.

The concept, called “Return-Free” — where the IRS automatically prepares income-tax returns of those taxpayers with the simplest returns and then sends taxpayers the bill — is being considered by the President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform.

One of several Republicans who opposes the concept calls it “flawed” and “dangerous to taxpayers.”

It “creates a conflict of interest by making the tax collector the tax preparer,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana warns in a letter sent to the chairman of the tax reform panel, Rep. Connie Mack, Florida Republican.

In addition, what are the chances that taxpayers will trust the IRS to find them the most deductions and biggest refund? (Whatever you do, don’t try claiming your new sailboat as a business expense.)

“[M]any taxpayers will still have to take the time to prepare their taxes in order to verify [what] the IRS sent them,” Mr. Pence predicts.

And believe it or not, under the proposal, the individual taxpayer — not the IRS — still will be personally liable for mistakes.

Early primaries

She may be sitting on the fence, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is way out in front of any other contender mentioned for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Asked in a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll for whom they would vote if the Democratic primary were held today, a whopping 42 percent of 900 registered voters replied Mrs. Clinton.

Well behind the senator from New York and former first lady are Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, tied for second with 14 percent. Former Vice President Al Gore is backed by 11 percent of the voters, while Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware got 5 percent and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner got 1 percent.

Meanwhile, it remains an unofficial horse race for Republicans, with former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in the lead with 26 percent of the vote, followed closely by Sen. John McCain of Arizona at 23 percent and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with 18 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has the support of 7 percent, while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. George Allen of Virginia each got 2 percent of the vote.

Divorce myth

The social critic and researcher who co-authored a groundbreaking study on college women’s attitudes about sex and dating on campus (in a nutshell, it’s not your mother’s campus anymore) was in Washington this week to participate in an ongoing lecture series examining how families are affected by current political trends.

Elizabeth Marquardt, a 35-year-old wife and mother and affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values in New York City, took her turn at the Family Policy Lecture series, sponsored by the Family Research Council. Her most recent book is “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.”

One-quarter of adults in this country ages 18 to 35 grew up in divorced families, yet few challenge what is commonly called the “good” divorce — a notion that children will be fine as long as their parents remain civil and make children feel loved.

Mrs. Marquardt, herself a child of divorce, instead spoke about the negative, long-lasting effects of divorce on children’s emotional and spiritual lives.

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

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