- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Lamb and lions

While this popular medium wasn’t his invention, 25 years ago this week then-Rep. Al Gore of Tennessee stepped up to the House lectern and became the first member of Congress recognized to speak over the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, or C-SPAN.

The rest, shall we say, is history.

“Never in the history of the world have people known more about their government than the people of this country,” says Brian Lamb, C-SPAN’s founder and chief executive officer. “We’ve never had a population that’s been more informed.”

Mr. Lamb tells Inside the Beltway that 3.5 million cable homes were equipped to watch Mr. Gore address Congress on March 19, 1979. Today, C-SPAN’s 275 employees transmit gavel-to-gavel coverage of Congress and additional programming into 88 million homes via three 24-hour TV networks: C-SPAN, C-SPAN2 and C-SPAN3.

“We were bare bones that first day,” Mr. Lamb recalls. “We had four people working here — an engineer, a person on Capitol Hill putting the names on the screen and two more in Arlington, which had a cable system. You could watch that day in California and Maine, but you couldn’t see us here in Washington.”

Congress was skeptical at first.

“I remember it because it was an invasion, some people thought, upon the privacy of the institutions and that it would really destroy the ability of people to work together and argue and debate free from all the dimensions of what happens when you get to the public,” Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords recalled this week while a guest of C-SPAN.

“On the other hand, I think there were some that felt … the important thing for the country was to really know what goes on inside as well as what people say outside so that they would better understand how the government works.”

Politically speaking, former Rep. Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, saw another opportunity in C-SPAN.

“It was abused in a sense — Newt Gingrich was such a master of the utilization of the thing,” said Mr. Jeffords, who two decades later abandoned the Republican Party to become an independent. “And I remember when it started and [former House Speaker Thomas P.] ‘Tip’ O’Neill would just — oh, I remember being with him even — he would just cringe when he would see Newt on there orating and realizing that this is going all over the country.

“And Newt would say, ‘If there’s anybody out there who disagrees with me, let them stand up and be heard.’ And of course, there wasn’t anybody there.”

Historic first

For the first time, the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties will engage in a formal debate: Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will go head-to-head tomorrow night with Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

The 8 p.m. presidential-style debate, to be moderated by George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week,” is hosted by Catholic University in Washington, the alma mater of both party leaders.

Mr. Gillespie graduated from Catholic in 1983 and Mr. McAuliffe in 1979, each with a bachelor’s degree in, what else, politics.

Irish lies

Speaking of Ed Gillespie, the Republican Party chairman read our limerick yesterday on Sen. John Kerry’s diverse family roots. Now the very-Irish chairman of the RNC has sent Inside the Beltway his own limerick in tribute to Mr. Kerry in honor of St. Patrick’s Day:

There once was a man from Nantucket

Whose misstatements could fill up a bucket.

Oft the truth he has bent,

Like his “Irish descent.”

Of his record he says, “I’ll just duck it.”

Confusing coin

Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle’s bill proposing the creation of a nearly pure gold investment-grade bullion coin honoring presidential first ladies — on the front of the coin would be a likeness of the spouse, her terms of service and the order in which she served — could be more trouble than it’s worth.

“Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Chester A. Arthur were widowers when they served their presidential terms,” notes Inside the Beltway reader J. Keen Holland. “Will the coins feature their late wives or the women who presided over White House social functions for them respectively — a daughter, niece and sister?

“John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson were both widowed and remarried while serving as president. Will the series feature both wives for each of them?” he asked. “Should Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s coin identify her as ‘co-president’ in line with the Clintons’ pledge to be a two-fer?

“I suspect Congressman Castle will rue the day he ever opened up this can of worms.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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