- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

Alone in thought

President Bush had just finished delivering his State of the Union address on Wednesday. A lone senator, in a blue suit, looking down at the floor, made a beeline out of the House chamber, somehow speeding through a ridiculously packed Statuary Hall.

Judging from the expression on his face, it’s not where Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry hoped to be at 10:03 that historic night.

D.C. sightings

That was the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, Washington diners saw waltz (with no reservation) recently into TenPenh, Washington’s famed Southeast Asian restaurant fronting Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Capitol Hill.

Given her charm, Fergie had no problem securing a table at the popular restaurant. And yes, the Weight Watchers spokesperson was in control, declining the amuse bouche offered by chef Cliff Wharton and sticking to a less-caloric two-course meal.

If the duchess didn’t attract enough TenPenh attention, singer Gloria Estafan showed up another late evening, taking her regular seat near the kitchen. The entertainer says she can’t come to Washington without ordering her favorite dish, the restaurant’s signature Chinese Smoked Lobster.

Chef Ted

Now that he has severed his vice-chairmanship ties with AOL and Time Warner, CNN founder Ted Turner is concentrating on grilling bison steaks.

Ted’s Montana Grill, a meat-heavy restaurant chain co-founded by Mr. Turner, just opened its doors in Alexandria — the media mogul’s first location in the Washington area.

We’re told Mr. Turner will be in the historic Potomac River port city in mid-March to greet diners and explain his gastronomical creations, not the least being “beer-can” chicken.

Everybody loses

Given all the buzz around Social Security, rumors persist that members of Congress don’t pay into the retirement system. Could this be true?

“The answer is no,” informs the secretary of the Senate. “All members of Congress pay Social Security taxes in the same amounts as they would if they were employed in the private sector at the same salary level.”

The Senate office says any confusion about Social Security “probably results from the fact that before 1984, senators and representatives did not participate in the Social Security program.”

“Like all federal government employees at that time, members of Congress were covered by a pension plan, called the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), that did not require payment of Social Security taxes and did not provide Social Security benefits,” the office explains.

In 1983, a law passed requiring all lawmakers to participate in the Social Security system as of Jan. 1, 1984, regardless of when they entered Congress.

Smear polls

Did you hear about the Democratic congressman who has to sleep with a night light because he’s afraid of the dark? OK, we’re joking, but that’s the point Rep. Tom Petri, Wisconsin Republican, is trying to make about telephone “push polls.”

“As many candidates for public office have learned through personal experience, these push polls are not legitimate telephone surveys but campaign devices designed to smear a candidate under the guise of a standard opinion poll,” says the 14-term congressman.

How do push polls work?

“Imagine a voter, who has been identified as a supporter of candidate X, being asked in a survey if this support would continue if it was learned that candidate X was guilty of a terrible indiscretion or an outright crime,” he says.

Or sleeping with a night light.

“It doesn’t matter whether the allegations are true, because the idea that candidate X is somehow unfit for office has been planted successfully. This is a telephone push poll, or ‘smear’ poll.” Mr. Petri’s legislation, among other things, would require that a transcript of a pollster’s questions be submitted to the Federal Election Commission.

Candid Cajun

Let us allow a single paragraph of a memo about the state of the Democratic Party, issued by Democratic strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, speak for itself:

“But on the key dimensions essential for the Democrats’ re-emergence as a dominant national force, the party falls woefully short. As voters compare the parties, they see a Democratic Party without purpose and defining ideas; a party not at all strong (weak politically, without strong leaders and direction); not the go-to party on protecting the country; ambivalent on basic values, like right and wrong and responsibility; and only marginally ahead on advocacy for people, being on their side.”

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

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