- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2005

Stay the course

One person who followed with interest the Discovery Channel’s recent series, “Greatest American,” chronicling 100 noted Americans was Mississippi Rep. Roger Wicker, a Republican.

“While I questioned some of the choices, I was pleased with the five finalists,” the congressman states. “Ronald Reagan finished first in the final vote of viewers, followed by Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

“All five are outstanding figures in American history, but my online vote went to George Washington — the father of our country.”

Mr. Wicker was re-elected to a sixth term in November and served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and retired last year from the Air Force Reserve with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He draws attention to the several challenges Washington faced — many of them similar to what President Bush faces today.

“When he assumed command of the Continental Army in 1776, he was only 43 years old,” the congressman observes. And as historian David McCullough wrote, Washington “had never led an army in battle, never before commanded anything larger than a regiment.”

“Fully mindful of his limitations,” the congressman continues, “Washington, nevertheless, stood head and shoulders above the rest and was the obvious choice for command because of his leadership, courage under fire and the force of his personality.”

And similar to our commander in chief today, “Washington also had to contend with a lack of popular support.”

“He never had the backing of more than one-third of the colonists,” Mr. Wicker says. “Another third of the population were loyal to the king, and the rest were indifferent. Despite the odds, Washington persevered through another 6 years of trials before he could claim victory.

“By the time the longest war in our nation’s history ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783,” in which Britain recognized the independence of the United States, “fully 1 percent of our population had lost their lives in the struggle.”

As Mr. McCullough wrote, the ragtag Continental Army had defeated “the best-trained, best-equipped, most formidable military force on earth.”

“More importantly,” the congressman says, “the entirely new and unique concept of a democratic republic was established through Washington’s leadership. When he assumed the presidency in 1789, Washington was the only popularly elected head of state on the planet.”

Political animals

We’d read where the Wyoming House of Representatives voted 45-12 earlier this year to make the elusive jackalope — half jackrabbit, half antelope, although usually sporting deer antlers — the state’s mythical creature.

As Outdoor Life magazine observed: “Why the vote wasn’t unanimous is beyond us.”

Anyway, in doing some research on this intriguing political item, we came across the Web site www.stateanimals.com, which reports not only on the jackalope legislation, but also “animals” and other creatures making news in other state legislatures.

Take Texas, where one lawmaker wants the Blue Lacy, the only dog breed to have originated in the state, to become the official state dog (we got a hold of the legislation and read that Lacys are named for brothers George, Ewin, Frank, and Harry Lacy, who moved to Texas from Kentucky in 1858 to breed cattle and hogs; it was only natural that they also would breed dogs to work them. The family is said to have used greyhound, scenthound and coyote stock in creating the animal that took their name).

In Georgia, meanwhile, Gov. Sonny Perdue has signed SB41 making the green tree frog the official state amphibian, and in Alabama, the black bear has become the official state mammal.

Although SJR4 failed to make the catfish Iowa’s official state fish, lawmakers say they will try again next year. Same story in Indiana, where the Karner blue butterfly didn’t fly.

In Delaware, the House did pass HB77, making the tiny stonefly the official state macroinvertebrate. But North Carolina isn’t crazy about bugs, so it is considering making the Venus’ flytrap the official state plant.

Yes, Virginia, the Virginia big-eared bat has been designated the official bat of the commonwealth. And folks in Alabama want the queen honey bee to replace the monarch butterfly as the state insect.

Finally, in Tennessee, they apparently can’t make up their mind whether official status should go to the smallmouth bass or the largemouth bass.

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

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