- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Cheerfully adrift

Who would have thought that nearly 20 years after President Reagan bid fond farewell to a long and dangerous Cold War that the very existence of the United States would be threatened?

“The whole process is broken,” former House speaker and possible 2008 presidential contender Newt Gingrich told a small group of conservatives yesterday at the Connecticut Avenue offices of Dezenhall Resources.

In particular, he warned of five foreign and internal forces that threaten the nation: terrorism and rogue governments, loss of patriotism among Americans, economic decline owing to poor math and science education, financial burdens from Social Security and Medicare, and the disappearance of God in everyday life.

“I think the challenges we face are very big,” Mr. Gingrich said, adding that fixing them calls for “very deep and very dramatic change.”

Until then, he said, the U.S. government is not capable of an adequate response to numerous real threats, whether it be terrorists striking the United States with a weapon of mass destruction or an outbreak of bird flu.

Should such a nationwide catastrophe unfold, Mr. Gingrich said Americans “won’t have a clear idea of what the next week will bring.”

“I think we are cheerfully drifting our way through,” he said.

In his new book “Winning the Future,” Mr. Gingrich expands on his groundbreaking Contract With America to offer a new blueprint for the future, a “21st-century Contract With America,” if you will.

Undisputed dean

Congratulations to 79-year-old Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, for having now served the longest tenure — 50 years and counting — in the 435-member House of Representatives.

Mr. Dingell started his Capitol Hill career in 1955 at the age of 29, when his father died while still a congressman and he stepped in to fill the void. He has since served in 25 Congresses under 10 presidents.

As for the current commander in chief, the veteran Democrat actually praised President Bush’s State of the Union address last week, calling it “balanced.”

“After years of divisive rhetoric, he spoke like a man wanting to work with the opposition,” said Mr. Dingell. “It is now my hope that these words are matched with deeds; if they are, I will be happy to work with him … .”

Making hay

Newly elected House Majority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio has wasted no time hiring his senior staff, including new Chief of Staff Paula Nowakowski, Deputy Chief of Staff David Schnittger and general counsel Jo-Marie St. Martin.

Ms. Nowakowski became staff director for the Education and the Workforce Committee when Mr. Boehner became its chairman five years ago. She previously served four years as communications director for the House Republican Conference and previously was research director at the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Schnittger has been Mr. Boehner’s personal office chief of staff, while Ms. St. Martin was the general counsel at the Education and the Workforce Committee, having previously toiled in private practice in Kingsport, Tenn.

Southern staple

People outside the South don’t realize “how much a role a successful barbecue plays in Southern hospitality and politics.”

So insists Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, who says “the first thing one needs to understand is that in the South, the word barbecue itself can be noun, a verb or an adjective. It is more than food, it is a cultural identification and one that crosses all party lines.”

He brings all this up in wishing a happy 50th anniversary of culinary and political tradition to Sconyers Barbecue Restaurant in Augusta, Ga., which has even supplied barbecue to the White House.

The congressman says owner Larry Sconyers once got so close to politics it “almost cost us this wonderful asset.”

“He was enticed to run for office himself, first serving as a [county commissioner] then as the first mayor of a consolidated Augusta-Richmond County — Georgia’s second-largest city — until he retired from direct politics in 1998 to return to the barbecue business.”

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

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