- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

Kansas cowboy

One of the more popular White House press secretaries of recent times — among reporters and presidents alike — was Marlin Fitzwater, who toiled under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

One might say that even former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev admired the cigar-chomping Mr. Fitzwater, who liked to tell it the way he saw it.

Addressing students the other day from three major universities linked together by C-SPAN’s Distance Learning Class, Mr. Fitzwater recalled the time he walked into the Oval Office, tail between his legs, and offered to submit his resignation to Mr. Bush.

Moments earlier, he told students, “I made the mistake of calling Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union a ‘drugstore cowboy’ because he kept making promises of reducing nuclear weapons, but he never gave us anything on paper that we could react to or negotiate.

“I’m an old farm boy from Kansas,” he explained. “‘Drugstore cowboy’ meant someone was going around a drugstore saying how cool he was, but when it came time to put up or shut up, he couldn’t do it. I thought this was a perfect analogy. Boy, was I wrong. Every paper in the country had ‘Fitzwater Calls Gorbachev Drugstore Cowboy.’”

Rather than resigning on the spot, Mr. Bush told his apologetic spokesman to wait a day and see how the dust settled. Surprisingly, the next 24 hours brought no response whatsoever from Mr. Gorbachev or anybody else at the Kremlin.

And wouldn’t you know, several days later the Soviets suddenly began reducing their nuclear-weapons stockpiles. And for that, or so he joked, Mr. Fitzwater doesn’t mind taking the credit.

Fall of an empire

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, for which President Bush is honorary chairman, was authorized by Congress to erect an international memorial in Washington to the 100 million people killed by communist regimes.

And is it ever overdue.

“The fall of the communist empire,” observed Czech President Vaclav Havel, “was an event on the same scale of importance as the fall of the Roman Empire.”

Six months ago, the National Capital Planning Commission formally approved a site for the memorial — offering a clear view of the U.S. Capitol about two blocks from Union Station at the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues NW.

Washington author and historian Lee Edwards, the hands-on chairman of the foundation, who for several years has raised the required funding for the memorial, made it known that an unobstructed view of the U.S. Capitol was a top priority because at the heart of the memorial is a 10-foot bronze replica of the “Democracy” statue — based on the Statue of Liberty and erected by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

“We are very close to something we have been working toward for 15 years — building a memorial on Capitol Hill to the 100 million victims of communism and to those who love liberty,” says Mr. Edwards, founding director of the Institute on Political Journalism at Georgetown University and a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

“We’re delighted, we’re excited, and we’re looking forward to breaking ground in early 2006,” he says, for which Mr. Bush and other world leaders are expected to attend.

Royal joke

If you think Washington malpractice lawyer Jack Olender’s reputation resides solely inside the Beltway, think again.

Interviewed on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” newly published author Carole Radziwill recalled a practical joke that John F. Kennedy Jr. played on his cousin and her husband, Polish Prince Anthony Radziwill, who died of cancer one month after Mr. Kennedy perished in a plane crash in 1999.

After persuading his cousin the prince to serve as treasurer for one of his charities, Mr. Kennedy sent him a legal letter from “Jack Olender, Esquire,” representing a woman who had tripped and fallen at one of the charity board meetings. The letter advised that she was suing for $10 million.

Mr. Kennedy went so far as to have a fake Olender employee answer the phone number on the phony letterhead when the prince called to discuss the claim. Mrs. Radziwill said her husband framed the letter in appreciation of having fallen for the practical joke.

Mr. Olender tells this column that it’s not unusual for injured people — and in some instances, lawyers — to tell insurance-claims representatives that they are going to hire the Washington lawyer for trial if the insurance company doesn’t make a satisfactory offer.

“However, this is the first time I’ve had my name ripped off as part of a practical joke,” says Mr. Olender. “And frankly, I’m flattered to have had a part in John-John’s practical joke.”

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

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