- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

Oh, Christmas tree

Thanksgiving digested, Earl Deal this morning will grab his ax and chop down (OK, he’ll probably use a chainsaw) a Christmas tree — an 18-foot Fraser fir, to be precise, that’s been growing for more than 20 years on his Smokey Holler Tree Farm in central North Carolina.

Then on Monday morning, he and his wife, Betsy, will deliver the tree to the North Portico of the White House, a tradition begun in 1856 — albeit Theodore Roosevelt tried to put a stop to it.

Reading from Irena Chalmers’ “The Great American Christmas Almanac,” holiday historian Douglas D. Anderson writes that Roosevelt, an ardent conservationist, “forbade his children to have a Christmas tree on the grounds that it would undermine his conservation program.”

He is said to have observed in 1902: “It’s not good to cut down trees for mere decoration. We must set a good example for the people of America.”

However, Mr. Anderson says “when the matter was broached with Gifford Pinchot, a Cabinet member and founder of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the president relented. Pinchot assured the president that thinning the forest by cutting down Christmas trees actually helped the forest thrive. It is reported that after this episode, the Roosevelts had a small tree each year.”

First lady Laura Bush will be on hand Monday to receive the tree.

Envelope, please

It’s that time again: American Speaker’s (the guide to successful speaking) annual Patrick Henry Awards for best — and worst — public speakers.

“My only regret — and you can quote me on this — is that our judging was completed just before Chief Justice [John G.] Roberts’ confirmation hearings,” Inside the Beltway is told by Aram Bakshian Jr., founder and editor in chief of American Speaker, who previously served as White House speechwriter to three U.S. presidents, including director of presidential speechwriting for Ronald Reagan.

Chief Justice Roberts’ testimony before Congress “was unquestionably the most brilliant and most effective impromptu speaking performance of the year delivered, alas, a few days too late for inclusion in the awards,” Mr. Bakshian said.

Without further ado, major award winners:

• Best Political Speaker: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“Like her or loathe her, New York’s junior senator — and obvious Democratic presidential hopeful — had to be the most successful political speaker of 2005,” he said. “Mrs. Clinton cleverly projected herself as — at least rhetorically — a moderate in a Democratic Party often dominated by ultraliberal voices. Whether it was genuine or not … it was definitely the most impressive political/oratorical makeover of 2005.”

• Most Embarrassing Public Utterance: Tie between Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, and the Rev. Pat Robertson.

“And what a rhetorical odd couple they make,” Mr. Bakshian observes. “There are many ways to shoot yourself in the foot rhetorically, and messieurs Rangel and Robertson are prime illustrations of two of them. (Mr. Rangel gets the award for trying to trace today’s attacks on black family values to 18th century British slave owner Willie Lynch, who actually never existed. Mr. Robertson gets the honors for encouraging the assassination of anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.)

• Best-Spoken Television Interviewer honors: Ted Koppel, who just stepped down as ABC News’ “Nightline” host.

“[E]xpresses himself in clear, articulate terms and attempts to bring out the same qualities in his guests for the benefit of his viewers — admittedly, often a lost cause,” Mr. Bakshian said.

• Worst Television Interviewer: Larry King of CNN.

“[H]e can’t make up his mind whether he’s a newsman or a show-biz personality doing his shtick. There’s nothing wrong with either, Larry, but you can’t have it both ways. Mr. King also has a tendency to play favorites,” said Mr. Bakshian, and “the more famous or prestigious the guests, the more softball the questions Mr. King pitches to them. The result is usually a pleasantly bland interview with little or no nutritional value for the viewer.”

Called to the felt

Poker being the latest craze in this country, particularly among young people, 14,000 players were asked what world leader they’d choose to check raise in a game.

The favorite: President Bush, followed by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

“My guess is people want to play against Bush because he looks like someone that’s easy to bluff,” said Mickey Richardson, chief executive officer of BetCRIS.com, which since 1985 has secured wagering on sporting events, horse racing, casino and poker.

“Personally, I’d be afraid to play against Castro,” he adds. “If he catches you putting a move on him, you’re done for.”

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

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