Thursday, January 19, 2006

In need of Newt?

Saying the country is in “need of solutions,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — having passed on becoming a zoo director in his early life — will announce this morning that he will “consider” running for president in 2008.

Appearing on C-SPAN’s “Issues in Media and Public Policy,” which airs at 10 a.m., Mr. Gingrich says the year 1958 will weigh into his ultimate decision, when he was a high school freshman living in Europe, where his father, a career infantryman, was stationed.

“He took us to the battlefield of northern France, the biggest battlefield of the first world war,” Mr. Gingrich recalls. “And we stayed with friends of his who had been drafted in 1941, sent to the Philippines, [walked] in the death march, spent 3½ years in a Japanese prison camp.

“At the end of the weekend, looking at this huge battlefield from World War I, and then listening to stories about what it was like to lose, what it was like to be in prison camp (I was going to be a zoo director or a paleontologist) … I spent the summer literally thinking, praying about what I experienced. And I decided that countries can die and that the quality of our civilian leadership is central to our survival.

“So in August of 1958, I decided to do what I’ve been doing ever since, which is try to provide public leadership, try to provide answers and solutions to what kind of country we need to be,” he says. “I think when I stepped down [from Congress] in January of 1999, I did not expect the country to be in as big a need of new solutions as I think it is now.”

Virginia sons

Federal Judge Richard Bender Abell will speak of Robert E. Lee as the “quintessential American” in his address tomorrow at the annual United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) ceremony in the historic Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.

So says Vicki Heilig, D.C division president of the UDC, who notes that the ceremony celebrating the birthdays of Lee (his 199th birthday was yesterday) and Confederate Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson has been held every year since 1911, “when the statues of Lee and George Washington got to Statuary Hall.”

Lee’s statue “wasn’t dedicated until the 1930s, and that’s because there was some letter writing from northern congressmen who said Lee, because he was a traitor, should not have a place of honor in Statuary Hall. So Virginia said, ‘Well, if you don’t want Lee, send Washington back, too.’ Today, obviously, both statues stand in the U.S. Capitol; Washington out in the Rotunda, and Lee in Statuary Hall.”

Spanking Coulter

Outside of divorce court, one normally doesn’t draw attention to mean things people say about them. Then again, Ann Coulter doesn’t even consider herself normal.

The popular right-wing political commentator has taken four separate insults fired in her direction and is using them to point out why people should subscribe to Human Events, a conservative publication she calls her “editorial home.” Without further ado:

• “As a pundit, Ann Coulter is about on a par with Charles Manson.” (Eric Alterman, the Nation)

• “She’s cute, blonde, mini-skirted, mean as a warthog and somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan.” (Caryl Rivers, Women’s ENews)

• “Ann Coulter displays all the feminine warmth of a water moccasin.” (Gene Lyons, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

• “Coulter and her brood should be treated like spoiled brats. … Put them over the knee, paddle their fannies.” (Charles Taylor, Salon)

Now that hurts

Vice President Dick Cheney should take solace that he’s not the only American who suffers from gout. Literally dozens of Inside the Beltway readers from all over the country have written testimonials to their pain and suffering, most centered in their big toes.

Dr. George W. Marcom of Houston says our allusion to the “King’s Disease” reminds him of a celebrated medical story.

“In the 18th century, the British felt the need to be less dependent on the French for imports, and this led to their turning to Portugal for their wine,” he educates. “And a favorite, especially for King George, was Madeira port. Madeira port is aged in lead-lined casks.

“The combination of acid and alcohol is a fine way to leach lead from the lining, and as a result George had an ample source of dietary lead, and he did, in fact, develop chronic lead poisoning. His courtesans aped his preference, and the popularity of Madeira port percolated down to the gentry. Since George was the exemplar of the problem, it became known as the King’s Disease.”

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

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