- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Debating Kerry

Tommy “The Matchmaker” Curtis is best known as skipper of the Yacht Club of Bethesda, heralded by Washington newspapers and magazines alike for his astounding ability to match couples and send them happily down the matrimonial aisle.

This single columnist will also have you know that Mr. Curtis and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry were not only in the same Yale University class of 1966, they went head-to-head in the prestigious senior class public-speaking contest.

Mr. Kerry, not surprisingly, was well-known in those days for his skill at debating. Mr. Curtis’ claim to fame, on the other hand, was getting elected Yale’s social chairman and prom committee representative.

“All my work centered around finding women to come to Yale’s mixers,” he says. “Yale at that time was all men, so mixers were an important part of the school’s — and my — social life.”

Back to the speaking contest, the institution’s austere faculty, clad in their black suits and ties, assumed their appointed places around Woolsey Hall as the competition commenced.

“John was the odds-on favorite,” recalls Mr. Curtis. “He was the star debater, president of Yale’s political union. I was like a walk-on — a 100-to-1 shot. I walked out there completely unprepared.”

How bad did Mr. Kerry defeat you? “I defeated John hands down,” Mr. Curtis says. “I was first runner-up, finishing second place. John finished somewhere down the line.”

Spin masters

James Carville and Paul Begala, the famous pair of politicos responsible for then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton’s rapid ascension onto the national stage in 1992 — who aren’t so specific today (given their CNN duties) about the role they play in Sen. John Kerry’s campaign — will conduct a Democratic National Committee conference call on behalf of the candidate this evening prior to the first presidential debate.

“They’ll tell you how to push back against Karl Rove’s spin,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe informs those on the receiving end of the call, referring to President Bush’s top advisor at the White House.

Introducing Eakin

Should a vacancy occur soon on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court, this columnist would like to nominate Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin.

If for no other reason than to bring a smile to the faces of newspaper readers when unpopular rulings are handed down.

Take last week, when Pennsylvania’s highest court decided that the state’s drunken driving law was unconstitutionally vague and therefore could not be enforced against those on horseback.

To make a long night short, a man riding a horse along a dark road was rear-ended by a man driving a pickup. However, both men failed sobriety tests. In the end, the court ruled that only the driver of the truck could be charged with driving drunk.

As for Justice Eakin, he issued the lone dissent by observing that the rules of the road “apply to the driver of the mustang and Mustang alike.”

And as he is so fond of doing, writes Associated Press scribe Joe Mandak, the justice issued his opinion in rhyme, summing up his dissent with two stanzas mimicking the theme song of television’s “Mister Ed” — a 60s sitcom about a talking horse:

“A horse is a horse, of course, of course, but the Vehicle Code does not divorce its application from, perforce, a steed as my colleagues said.

“‘It’s not vague,’ I’ll say until I’m hoarse, and whether a car, a truck or horse this law applies with equal force, and I’d reverse instead.”

Zell on the rocks

How anxious are Americans to root for their favorite candidate during this evening’s first of three presidential debates?

The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, the plush yet infamous hotel where federal authorities “bugged” Monica Lewinsky about Bill Clinton, where sportscaster Marv Albert bit and got bitten, and where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat preferred lodging a stone’s throw across the Potomac River from the White House, is “anticipating as much as a 20 percent rise in requests for room service” during this evening’s debate, when guests will be glued to wide-screen TVs.

The hotel is also offering “Cast Your Vote” — a special room-service dinner and cocktails menu featuring selections ranging from Texas caviar (don’t ask us) to Boston fish and chips. To wash it down, a “Give ‘Em Hell, Zell” highball or Swift Boat Bellini comes highly recommended.

Fans of this column will enjoy John McCaslin’s new book, “Inside the Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans From Around the Nation’s Capital.” Mr. McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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