- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2011

CHAIR PERSONS

The State of the Union company picnic is looming on Capitol Hill. Come Tuesday, there will be sack races, an egg toss, a group sing, and oh yes, a big speech from President Obama in there somewhere. For the first time in 200 years, the annual address to the nation has become a showcase for political civility, where opposing members of Congress defy tradition and sit together, as per the recommendations of Democrats, such as Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado.

The running count of dutiful lawmakers so far? Mr. Udall reveals that 28 senators and 15 House members are pledging to sit with the opposition during the speech. But, alas, there’s already a partisan divide. Of the group, just eight are Republicans. We promise an update.

THE DRAMA ENSUES

White House hopefuls have distinctive campaign styles, even a year ahead of the game. In keeping with his urbane demeanor, President Obama is moving his 2012 re-election headquarters to Chicago. Sarah Palin, meanwhile, has the larger-than life cachet of Alaska to enhance her appeal. Mike Huckabee remains the canny, straight-shooting pastor while Mitt Romney is steeped in gravitas and business acumen. Tenacious Newt Gingrich has the armor of experience and a promising public partnership with his wife, Callista, who’s looking very first-ladylike these days.

But wait. That old historic touch never fails:

“At the first critical juncture in our nations history, our Founding Fathers started the Declaration with ‘when in the course of human events.’ In 1964, Ronald Reagan defined the differences in the modern era as ‘a time for choosing.’ That time is now. … We believe that you, Mike Pence, must answer your country’s call. We believe that you must offer yourself as a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012.”

“Mike, at this precarious time in our nations history, none of us can afford to make political calculations or make decisions based on future ambitions, for what will be left of the future if we fail today? As the Rev. John Witherspoon declared while advocating for the Declaration of Independence, ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, a nick of time. We perceive it now before us. To hesitate is to consent to our own slavery.’ Seize this moment, Mike. Now is the time for you, as one of this generations leaders, to take your rightful place in the pantheon of American leadership, to cast aside personal considerations, and defend this God-blessed nation that has given us, and the world, so much.”

Yowsuh. Curious?

Those passages are gleaned from a letter to Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Media Research Center President Brent Bozell, Leadership Institute President Morton Blackwell, and former Kansas congressman Jim Ryun.

ON A ROLE

Fred Thompson went back to acting after he left office. Now it is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn. The former California governor and matinee idol intends to return to the big screen again; he is reading a trio of scripts, one a heroic drama in the World War II genre. Mr. Schwarzenegger, 64, has ruled out extreme action fare, even as press and public argue over which bazooka-toting character he should reprise. Inquiring minds, though, wait to see if he’ll polish up his traditional values and bolster the ranks of Hollywood conservatives.

REVOLVING DOOR

When they leave Congress, senators must wait two years and House representatives one year before they become registered lobbyists. By law. So far, 13 of 19 outgoing senators from the 111th Congress have declared their post-Congress employment plans, and five of them are working in the “government relations industry” — this according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The watchdog group is continuously tracking the trajectory of former lawmakers; they also seek tips from former staffers about the details.

See who’s going where here: www.opensecrets.org/revolving/departing.php.

DRIVING FORCES

And speaking of inside the proverbial Beltway, Washington D.C. is the most congested place in the nation. Commuters waste 70 hours dawdling in traffic each year, long with 52 gallons of fuel — and roughly $1,555 in lost time and expenses. So says the 2010 Annual Mobility Report compiled from regional data by the Texas Transportation Institute. Chicago has almost identical numbers; Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco round out the top-five car-bound cities.

Blame it on politics.

“The glaring failure of elected leaders at all levels of government to adequately invest in transportation infrastructure improvements is taking an ever-increasing toll,” observes Pete Ruane, president of American Road & Transportation Builders Association. “Congress and the President Obama can do something about it by passing a robustly financed, long-term highway and transit bill, which is more than 15 months overdue.”

POLL DU JOUR

• 87 percent of Americans say “strengthening the nation’s economy” is the top priority for President Obama and Congress.

• 90 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Democrats agree.

• 73 percent overall say defending the United States against terrorism is the leading priority.

• 83 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats agree.

• 46 percent overall say illegal immigration is the top priority.

• 61 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats agree.

• 26 percent overall say global warming is the top priority.

• 10 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Pew Research Center poll of 1,503 adults conducted Jan. 5-9.

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