Reader Mail

Prairie Tales to You

Down on down-home Keillor. Inconvenient truths. In defense of Newt. Al Qaeda's rejiggerings. More last Judgements. When Webb quit in a huff. Plus much else.

6.19.06

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WOEBEGONE DAZE
Re: Lawrence Henry's Garrison Keillor Regrets:

Regarding the piece by Lawrence Henry on Garrison Keillor, I too have not found the author or radio program funny for quite a while. In fact, the show openly and aggressively mocks my conservative values. I've been weaning myself, and my family, from what was once a wholesome habit -- family time around a fun show.

"'A Prairie Home Companion' hasn't been very funny for quite a long time. Maybe it's just time to quit." At least this listener has quit both that show and all of the other PBS conservative-mocking drivel.
-- Jim Brace

I enjoyed your article on Garrison Keillor and the "Prairie Home Companion" radio show. I became familiar with the show back in the early '80s. I loved the "down home" stories and skits. It was entertaining radio.

I returned to the "Prairie Home Companion" in the mid-'90s. The first thing I noticed was that a certain darkness had crept into his stories. Also, he introduced politics into both his conversation and his skits. Both introductions bothered me and I became a less frequent listener. As time passed, his politics became more and more bitter. I finally stopped listening.

I wish it was possible to return to the "Prairie Home Companion" of the '80s. But as the old trite saying goes, "You can never go back."

Thanks again for an enjoyable article. It was a pleasant reminder of better radio.
-- Larry

Keillor is a latecomer to the leftist zone in America.

He either was finally overwhelmed by public opinion of a mostly left-wing mass media or he was for decades a naive farm boy who has finally discovered the world -- his world --that is. This new found political attitude will deservedly serve him to become a friend of Hollywood and an enemy of traditional Americanism.
-- Peter P. Haase
Boca Raton, Florida

The Keillor story sounds like "The Slim Graves Show" in the February 10, 1973 New Yorker. While the magazine has had its ups and downs, the CD set is worth the price (especially if discounted a bit) exactly for purposes like this.
-- Cole Kendall
Washington, D.C.

I was born in 1947 and grew up in a small lumber mill town in western Oregon. We did not have a television until I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. I was entertained for hours by listening to the radio. I sat spellbound and listened to the adventures of "The Lone Ranger," or "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," and had nightmares after listening to "Crimebusters"!

Imagine my delight when I discovered "Prairie Home Companion" back in the early 1980s! I listened, you might say, religiously for a number of years. It was great fun, innocent and happy, to listen to the adventures of those folks that hailed from Lake Woebegone. I even knew the words to the Powder Milk biscuit jingle by heart!

Imagine how disappointing it was over time to realize that Mr. Keillor was using the radio program as his bully pulpit to weave in his politics.

Needless to say, it has been many years since I have listened to "Prairie Home Companion." I will pass on the new movie version as well.

It is too bad that Mr. Keillor took advantage of our trust.
-- Roy W. Patterson
San Jose, California

Lawrence Henry is dead-on with his take on Garrison Keillor. I have never been a Democrat and by the time Ronald Reagan, no, by the time Jimmy Carter was halfway through his term I realized that I am a Conservative Republican. This did not stop me from listening to NPR religiously and never missing "A Prairie Home Companion." Why, I even saw the show live when it appeared in Nashville in the mid-1980s! All of that changed when Bill Clinton entered the White House.

Garrison Keillor became unfunny very quickly when he began using his show as a vehicle for political commentary and spewing vitriol toward Conservatives and Republicans. I do not know what it was about the Clintons that balkanized our country and gave celebrities the idea, as Mr. Henry says, that they have political opinions and wisdom that we would all like to hear. Mr. Keillor denigrates the God-given talents he has with his mean words and contempt for half the American voting public. Because of the Garrison Keillors on public radio and television, I quit giving money to support them years ago. Since I also do not waste my money watching movies and television programs starring celebrities who hate me because doing so only gives them more wealth to attack my beliefs, I'll not be seeing Keillor's movie, either. As the poet said, "I'm so over him."
-- Claudia Morris
Augusta, Georgia

Speaking antonomastically, I would like to note that that Lawrence Henry's column on that unctuous fraud, Garrison Keillor, exposes Keillor for what he has always been: The Uriah Heep of the air waves!
-- Bob Keiser
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania

Garrison Keillor is not on National Public Radio. Even a casual listener knows that.
-- Elliott Mitchell
Nashville, Tennessee

HATE IS ALL HE NEEDS
Re: Philip Klein's Berg's Post-Traumatic Bush Disorder:

Philip Klein has correctly diagnosed poor Michael Berg, but doesn't make the analytical leap to tying Berg's illness to the global pandemic of which Berg, though deserving of his share of our compassion, is but a tiny part. In fact, his share (calculated by dividing the whole of our compassion by the number of those similarly afflicted) is pretty small, as the virulent and intractable phanatic disbushia virus has by this time infected hundreds of millions, if not billions of hapless deep thinkers.

I don't really know what the least we can do for Michael Berg is, but at most we should refer him to an overseas facility where he may find relief in the, uh, cutting-edge palliative therapy protocol : the One-Minute Hate, invented by a Dr. George Orwell and awaiting FDA approval since 1984.
-- Paul Kotik
Plantation, Florida

Since all the terrorist targets have been Bush's fault, just how does the loony left explain the first twin tower bombing, or the Cole bombing, or Khobar Towers bombing. If Clinton had gone after them on his watch instead of letting them think America was a paper tiger, just maybe they could have been nipped in the bud. I am sick of hearing Bush lied, at least he had brass ones and was not going to let America be pushed around any longer.

We sure do NOT need the spineless Democrats to protect us. We will end up like France and put everything we value in the hands of the U.N. Just how scary is that!
-- Elaine Kyle
Texas

Unfortunately the father, too, lost his head. A tragedy of truly Greek proportion.
-- Wolf Terner
Fair lawn, New Jersey

NEEDED: SCIENCE EDITOR
Re: Jay D. Homnick's Warning Science:

Why, Jay Homnick asks, are "today's secularists and liberals... Gloomy about the planet's viability but bullish on the jungle (and stem cells, for that matter) yielding magical potions. What gives?" Beats me -- I'm a scientist. So what gives with Homnick's "one explanation"? What post-Coulteroid delusion leads him to construe my million colleagues as cut from the same cloth as such PBS performance artistes as "promise the messiah if we follow them into the forest and play with the birdies"?

There is something tedious as well as ludicrous about 21st century neoconservatives being in such a neo-Salafist snit about the contemporary success of the scientific method. Calling your opponents fundamentalists whenever at a loss for facts in technical controversy is fine for yack TV, but in print such sophomoric casuistry leaves readers who read wondering -- has Homnick ever cracked the pages of a copy of a science journal?

The ostrich-like failure of conservative publications to employ science editors does not excuse writers who rely on applied mathematics, solid state physics, and shades of An Inconvenient Truth computer modeling to inject the word 'cult' into the description of the civilizational enterprise that underpins their electronic journalism . Why should a smart guy like Jay find it "particularly difficult" to pick up a big enough "stick to wield against those who wear the mantle of science"? Even a stump preacher from a rotten borough like Gore can do it, and as Rove well knows, the whole right hand side of the bell curve is a terrible thing to lose in an election year.
-- Russell Seitz
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Just watch the reruns of the 2006 season of Deadliest Catch about crab fishing in the Bering Sea. It was the coldest season in years and some even lost their equipment to ice packs. Where is Gore and his global warming when you need him?

Without all the hype they would not be getting donations. So we see Gore talking about "global warming" on the coldest day of the year in New York.
-- Elaine Kyle
Texas

LOOSE FIT
Re: Patrick Devenny's Tinker, Tailer, Reporter, Spy:

The riff on John LeCarre's title and the 1979 TV miniseries that it spawned works better if you keep the original spelling of "tailor."

Ain't no such animal as a "tailer." Even in novels about private detectives who follow people, frontiersmen who tell tales, or backwoods hiking form among the Boy Scouts, where good patrols use the last person in line as a "trail sweep."
-- Patrick O'Hannigan

PULLING RANK
Re: Christopher Orlet's The New Al Qaeda:

I dislike having to contradict Mr. Orlet, but General Abizaid is a general (O-10, four stars), not a lieutenant general (O-9, three stars).

His deputy, Vice Admiral Nichols, is a three-star.
-- Ed Ahlsen-Girard

While Mr. Orlet cheerleads for the new and improved Al Qaeda, I would like to take exception to some of his comments:

1. "...the jihadists are able to stay one-step ahead of the West's bumbling security services, who have had a rather trying time predicting future models of attack." Perhaps I haven't been paying close enough attention and missed all the novel "models of attack" that were used in all the myriad terrorist attacks the West has suffered since 9/11. The ones I remember are Bali, Madrid, and London, none of which seemed particularly "novel" to me. Just saying it doesn't make it so.

2. "For a grassroots network to accomplish that feat, without direct involvement from the central leadership, would represent a generational leap forward in jihadist operations." While the decentralizing of recruitment and operation is disturbing, it comes with significant drawbacks for the terrorists. Funding will be limited, training is likely to be rudimentary at best, large-scale operations are virtually impossible. On balance, I do not think this development is a net plus for the terrorists.

3. Canadian basing of Al Qaeda cells in Canada "avoids the interference of that meddlesome Patriot Act." While the Canadians certainly are more lax in their immigration procedures, there are fewer legal protections of personal privacy than even the "meddlesome" Patriot Act allows for. The 17 terrorist wannabes arrested recently were caught using the kind of surveillance that would have had the New York Times editorial staff hyperventilating. With Stephen Harper in place and now that the Canadians have had a bit of a wake up call, I expect them to be more vigilant in looking for the terrorists in their midst and they have the latitude to use some reasonably aggressive methods.

4. "The new jihadist couldn't care less about the Caliphate, and has as his motivation anger over the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and, of course, the Israel-Palestinian dispute." Personally I think that an enemy animated by religious motivation (establishing and extending a Islamic Caliphate) is in the long term a more dangerous foe than one moved by more traditional political motivations (invasions of sovereign territory).

5. And finally he asserts that "...all things considered, they are not doing too badly." Mr. Orlet has presented no evidence of any Al Qaeda successes to bolster that argument. I do not consider the fact that they have had to change their M.O. under pressure from their opposition to be compelling evidence in and of itself of any level of success. As far as I can tell, this new approach has not generated any significant successful terrorist operations.

Surely The American Spectator can find contributors capable of generating analysis of a higher caliber than this drivel.
-- Bill White
Pleasant Ridge, Michigan

Christopher Orlet replies:
I am hesitant to reply to Mr. White's letter, since in the first paragraph he refers to me as a cheerleader for al Qaeda, which renders any other profundities he might offer suspect. My main points are that the Jihadists are becoming less and less beholden to bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, that they are not driven by his desire to re-establish the Caliphate, and that via the Internet they are able to establish new links with young, likeminded jihadists worldwide. All true.

As to Mr. White's first objection, if he had read more closely, he would see that I am referring to al Qaeda's two-decade career, not post-9-11. Al Qaeda has changed its modus operendi no fewer than four times since the early 1990s, in order to stay one step ahead of the security services. Today's jihadists bear little resemblance to the veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War who founded al Qaeda.

The Stratfor report documents four operational models: 1. Soviet-Afghan War vets, trained by Bin Laden and sent out on various attacks, like the 1992 strikes in Yemen against the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa and U.S. Air Force personnel in Aden; 2. the all-star sleeper team from 9/11; 3. Citizen jihadists, similar to the ones that blew up the London subway; and 4. Internet al Qaeda, which has different goals from, and no direct links with al Qaeda's central leadership. These are the models of operation that the security forces have been unable to anticipate.

As for Mr. White's second objection, allow me to quote again from the Stratfor report: "Canada, which has a long history of liberal immigration and asylum policies, has been used by jihadists as a sanctuary for raising funds and planning attacks." Third objection: Canada was able to nab the Canada 17 due largely to FBI information; Fourth: the rage due to the Palestinian-Israel conflict and the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq will likely cease with a resolution of the former and the end of conflict in the latter, but Bin Laden's desire for the reestablishment of the Caliphate will never end.

As for al Qaeda not doing too badly in the terrorism racket, check out this website and then tell me if you disagree.

FAT CHANCE
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s The Boy Speaker:

Mr. Tyrrell is way off on Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate. To proffer, George Allen excepted, Rudy Giuliani (big on gun control and questionable personal relationships), John McCain (anti-free speech), and Mitt Romney (universal health care by any other name...) as refuting Gingrich's claim of presidential vacuum is curious considering that Mr. Tyrrell's publication triumphantly proclaimed Gingrich's exoneration of tax evasion by the IRS, circa spring 1999. We conservatives repeatedly deflected the liberal criticism during the Clinton impeachment as not about his sexual dalliance but his subornment of perjury; so, why should we now make an issue Gingrich's personal relationships. As self-professed libertarian conservative, Mr. Tyrrell needs to provide an explanation how liberal Republicans fill a presidential vacuum.
-- Ted Lang
Plymouth, Michigan

Although I agree with you regarding SOME similarities between Gingrich and Clinton. I find your style, attacking the messenger and not the message sounding like a liberal (and I never thought I would hear that from you). Gingrich is a conservative leader and we need a conservative leader right now. If a George Allen or another conservative steps up to the plate, I'll back them. But if no one steps up, I'm sticking with Gingrich, and I bet a lot of Spectator fans would too.
-- Daniel Scouler
Chicago, Illinois

".. sempiternal fantasist"...? Even "spell-check" doesn't recognize "sempiternal." I'm thinking Mr. Tyrrell's an unabashed, purposeful, hyper-flamboyant, wordsmith's wordsmith intent on verbally mesmerizing mere mortals. All that with impeccable logic -- and, I think, a smidgen of "cunning."

And, "... adjournment of character as a desideratum for public life ..." Please, please, stop. My spindly mind reels.
-- A. A. Reynolds
Chula Vista, California

Newt will never be POTUS. Thanks to television the days of electing a dumpling to that office is over!
-- Wolf Terner
Fair lawn, New Jersey

THE TWO JACK KEMPS
Re: Steven M. Warshawsky's Jack Kemp's White Guilt:

My compliments on a great article, Mr. Warshawsky. You encapsulated a couple of centuries of racial history into a few pithy paragraphs. Dare I take exception? Not at all, but I do take "nuance," to coin a Democrat term.

To me, Jack Kemp has always seemed to be a man of principle. I think the people of the District of Columbia deserve representation in Congress. That is all he is advocating. His is a principled stand. They're taxed by the feds, aren't they? Why don't they have representation?

It's not "white guilt" that motivates people to idealism, just a trust that, however long it may take justice will ultimately prevail.
-- Handy

Jack Kemp is typical of political wannabes. When they are not in the spotlight, any radical idea will do, as an attention getter. This is to be expected from pols that have no real core of principles. If all examples of our founding documents were lost, what is the chance that our leaders could come up with reasonable facsimiles? None whatsoever. They haven't the character or brains to do such a creative thing. But we fast food, short attention span, pop culture Americans now have the government we deserve. Now, back to MTV and Comedy Central!
-- unsigned

ANN'S AD HOMINEM
Re: Mark Gauvreau Judge's Doubting Coulter -- At First:

Mark Judge's support of Ann Coulter's viciously insulting the 9/11 widows is absurd. First, Ann Coulter does not have a "brilliant mind," as Judge claims. Have you read her books? They are full of time-worn cliches, and riddled with hundreds of factual errors.

Coulter called the 9/11 widows "witches." yet they were classy in their response, and did not call Coulter any of a number of names they could have called her. Coulter said they enjoyed having their husbands die in the Twin Towers, yet the widows did not take a nasty personal shot at Coulter in return. Judge does not even give credit to the 9/11 widows for their verbal restraint and decency shown to a woman who showed them only bared teeth. Coulter blasted them as millionaires, yet she, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are all millionaires. What does that have to do with any American's ability to suggest improvements in our government's operations?

Judge pretends to be sympathetic to the 9/11 widows, but he barely manages a tepid criticism of Coulter. He boldly states that Ann Coulter is correct, or could be correct, simply because a press release by the Jersey Girls uses words he, Judge, would not have used. Unlike Judge, I have no ability to read minds and tell you exactly what the 9/11 widows' thoughts were while writing it. I think it likely that, having faced the fact that their husbands either were burnt by jet fuel or died from tons of falling skyscraper, they wanted to confront the average reader who does not pay attention or think about the consequences of war with a tiny picture of what their husbands did go through. The description was NOT graphic or long, it was just a few words.

I have never read one sentence by an American Spectator writer who EVER criticized Bush, Cheney, or an Army general at a funeral when they talk about a person who died in the Iraq war or on 9/11 and briefly state how the person died. How did this new standard come about, and why is it applied ONLY TO THE 9/11 WIDOWS? The real reason is that they criticize the Bush administration.

And what of Ann Coulter's self-serving claim that the 9/11 widows should never comment on Bush's 9/11 failures or the 9/11 mistakes of other government officials because their husbands died in the September 11 attacks? Why wouldn't they want to fix the errors of Bush, George Tenet, Spike Bowman of the FBI and others in order to give us a better chance of preventing more Americans from going through what their husbands went through?

Obviously, Ann Coulter knew that the 9/11 widows have moral authority and they have knowledge. So Coulter can't debate the facts, because they are more credible than she (Coulter) is. So she tries to ridicule them so the American public won't listen to their views.

Judge briefly alludes to the 9/11 widows' belief that Bush is still doing a poor job protecting America. They are correct. Bush refuses to guard our nuclear and chemical plants, still only screens 4 percent of all air cargo for bombs, and has doubled illegal alien inflow rates since 9/11. All 19 hijackers were illegal aliens, and most had spotlessly clean records. Yet Bush wants to amnesty their counterparts who are here illegally today, claiming that a background check will catch criminals. But every planning-stage terrorist who has not committed a crime yet will pass that check. So he will be amnestying plenty of criminals and an unknown number of terrorists. This is why we need the voices of the 9/11 widows, to point out that Bush has spent billions, but has not actually done much in these key areas of concern to Americans.
-- Robert Ashton

The real thrust of this article is to find a way to support Coulter... and the author had to work hard indeed.

His entire argument is that truly grieving widows would not be descriptive in how their husbands died because he does not care to be descriptive in how his friend, his father, etc. died.

So, again we have faulty logic comparing apples and oranges. Was Judge attacked about his true feelings in these deaths? Was he challenged publicly and nationally that he somehow benefited from their deaths? Geez. Coulter stated that the wives enjoyed the attention their husbands' deaths provided -- she denigrated their grief and their feelings. The press release was intended to bring in sharp focus just what Coulter was saying -- that these women were monsters, that they not only didn't care about their husband's deaths, but that they didn't care and were not traumatized by the horrific manner of their deaths.

If the author wants to support the woman, then he should be honest about it... not try to put the blame on her targets by saying they have bulls-eyes painted on them.
-- Vicki Lucido

I'm reading with interest the various responses to Ann Coulter's criticism of "The Jersey Girls." I'm responding in particular to Mark Gauvreau Judge's editorial -- "Doubting Coulter -- At First."

My counterclaim to Coulter is, sure you can respond to them, you just did. But she didn't have to attack them personally -- why didn't she attack their ideas? If the ideas don't have merit, criticize those. You don't even need to bring them into it. Secondly, the Jersey Girls are adults; they can think for themselves and nobody put a gun to their heads. There are probably a half-dozen, yes even effective, ways to respond to propaganda without being insulting and rude.

My counterpoint to Mark Gauvreau is, no amount of "thinking about it" is going to put you in the place of someone who has lost someone they loved. People are unique and they'll have unique responses to each situation. People don't behave normally in abnormal situations, like death, particularly a violent death. To judge people for not having the response you think they should have is just that, judgmental.

I've seen people in times of intense grief, and the way some people deal with it is to take it up like a banner and proclaim their grief loudly to all who will listen, to turn their anger and grief outward and perhaps blame people for it, to force other people to go through it too by describing it in graphic detail. Now, I personally find that kind of response repugnant, but I decline to judge whether such people are not grieving. What I suspect they're going is surviving, coping. You may not like the way they do it, but that's fine.

Unfortunately they are very loud, and they sort of cry out for a response. But who they are doesn't make their ideas infallible, no matter how loudly Ann Coulter declares it to be so. Ann's a smart gal, she knows that for the propaganda technique it is, but then turns around and uses ad hominem (which I'm sure she, and Mark, know is fallacious) to make her point.

In summary, it's simply wrong to attack the person. That has no logical merit whatsoever, it's unbecoming of intelligent people and counter to Christian values. Coulter makes a fine living and gets lots of attention being a mean jerk. It doesn't matter if she has good points or not. A good Christian (or any good person) wouldn't congratulate her for that. A better one would take her to task for it.
-- Shannon E. Wells

WORD PLAY
Re: Stephen Foulard's letter ("Tangled Up in Blue") in Reader Mail's General Motoring:

Here I am, sitting at my desk, trying to type this, and chuckling so much, it's taking me forever. Mr. Foulard, like the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria, it seems we have managed to crash in the midst of the fog of miscommunication, no matter how hard we might have tried to avoid it.

From the beginning ("Explosive Events"), I suspected your original use of the term '72 Virginians' might be intentional, but without quote marks, I was hesitant to make the assumption. And, though I'm no professional comedian, like Mr. Williams, I thought my "targeted response" (Withdrawal Symptoms) was pretty funny, given the circumstances. Then (Fearful Liberalism), I realized that because you apparently like Robin Williams's work, you must've assumed his joke was common knowledge. Sorry, my bad. Was it on HBO? Somehow, thankfully, I managed to miss it.

Robin Williams hasn't been on my entertainment priority list since a second or two into the first Mork and Mindy episode. And, not to quibble, but I'm inclined to connect, perhaps unfairly, his political leanings with his punch lines, in which he has been known to punctuate his puerile biases with a pejorative or two aimed at patriots per se, which p's me off, notwithstanding my heritage. Given that, and for humor's sake, I thought I would take a shot at illustrating (Targeted Responses) how a bona fide "vengeful 'Old Dominion' patriot" might possibly take offense at being reduced to punch line material in a comedy routine by an aging liberal alien punster with an egg fetish. I was just trying to have a little fun, and whether Williams truly meant insult or tribute (Tangled Up in Blue) was unimportant to me. I thought you would realize that, but by then the Stockholm's bow was penetrating the Andrea Doria's hull.

For the sake of comity, therefore, if not comedy, I accept your interpretation of Mr. Williams's intent and consider our exchange merely as one of brothers in arms, who share an appreciation for humor, if not the humorists themselves. Too, our efforts actually may be a kind of vindication of communication professors worldwide. Just look at the press coverage we've received!

We do have much over which to commiserate. These are serious times. I'm so sorry to learn that Sheila the Red is your representative. I genuinely feel your pain, I do. I've been tempted, more than once, to forego the President's State of the Union address, that I might avoid having to watch Ms. Lee's routine attempt to grab center stage, and the subsequent comment on it even by the likes of Brit Hume. Perhaps, though, you can share in my joy, that thanks to Mr. DeLay's heroic efforts, many of us to the west of you were liberated from Lloyd the Lackey, even if only temporarily should we receive a counterproductive decision from the SCOTUS.

Welcome, Stephen, to the warm waters of TAS Reader Mail, perfect for toe-dipping or immersion, which is more fun, especially if Coulter happens to be around. And, here's to targeted responses, depending on who the target is!

You know, if Williams had said WEST Virginians, we might could have avoided this altogether. Just a thought!
-- Mike Showalter
Austin, Texas

WEBB vs. LEHMAN
Re: David Holman's Spinning Webb:

American Spectator reporter David Holman recently made some interesting observations about U.S. senatorial candidate (Virginia) James Webb who this past week won the Democratic nomination to run against Republican senator and expected presidential contender George Allen.

One of Holman's key observations is a surprising degree of apathy surrounding the candidate who should represent an exciting change for the Dems: "A paltry 3 percent of Virginia Democrats turned out for the primary, with only 53 percent opting for Webb."

Holman opines apathy may have been a matter of Webb's past as a registered Republican, and Reagan appointee, an affirmative action opponent, and even a George Allen supporter in 2000. But he goes on to say the candidate's problem is not the Jim Webb of the past, but the Jim Webb of today and to support that provides a list of amateurish gaffes made by a clearly not-ready-for-prime-time candidate:

* Missing an easy filing deadline.

* Making a dog's breakfast of Virginia's time honored Shad Planking political ritual.

* Giving evidence of wretched press-the-flesh people skills.

* Disdaining the distasteful vulgarities of fundraising as though he were some kind of young duke among the fishmongers.

* A hair trigger temper he has difficulty keeping in check.

Wall Street Journal contributing editor Peggy Noonan is even more critical. She considers Webb a same old, same old Democrat, saying of him, "in terms of domestic policy...he sounds to me like Nancy Pelosi with medals." Even more telling is her observation similar to the one made by Holman: "he does not seem to think politically, which can be a drawback when you go into politics."

Lost in all this discussion is a key event from Webb's not so distant past that may very well come back to haunt him in Virginia, a state heavily populated with military retirees.

In vivid contrast to Reagan's other Secretary of the Navy, the fabulously successful John Lehman -- a USNR A-6 beaner whose material assistance providing unprecedented access to Simpson and Bruckheimer leant authenticity to what has become the classic recruiting film of all time (Top Gun) -- Webb acted like an emotionally arrested spoiled brat.

He quickly managed to get himself cross threaded with SecDef Frank Carlucci over accelerating the pace of naval combatant shipbuilding -- as part of the Reagan defense build up to recover from the hollowing out disaster of the Carter years -- but rather than stick it out and advocate for his service as duty required, Secretary Webb quit in a well publicized huff, took his marbles and went home.

At the time he positioned himself before an adoring media as a man of honor who had no choice but to leave since he could not support his boss.

But from a political standpoint -- and SecNav must be above all a political animal as the magnificent John Lehman demonstrated time and time again -- the description that best fits Webb is of one who found that when the going gets tough, one sulks, throws a tantrum, whines to the press and quits.

It seems fair to predict that rashly deciding to politically disembowel himself as a way of punctuating his abbreviated tenure as SecNav is a factor that will do his credibility no favors as a candidate for a political arena with even higher stakes. This will be so especially against a competent, confident, easygoing opponent like Senator (and former Governor) George Allen who has a distinguished track record of success and perseverance. Indeed Webb may very well present an easy target, evidence that the Democrat Party has still not learned its lesson from having picked a half-baked loose cannon loser like John Kerry on the strength of only his alleged combat record. The difference -- if it matters in a political arena -- is that Webb really was a combat leader and a hero more than three decades ago. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that was then; this is now.

I must confess none of this has over the years been anything but a keen disappointment. I deeply respect Webb as a warrior and as an author. I was filled with admiration and optimism when the Gipper picked him for SecNav.

Of all the books he wrote, my personal favorite is A Sense of Honor, a barely fictionalized account of his final year at the U.S. Naval Academy (1968) that displayed the author's keen nose for -- and deft touch in describing -- the scent of political correctness that even back then was beginning to seep into Bancroft Hall like that of raw sewage. Indeed it was that book which motivated my youngest son to apply for admission from the enlisted ranks and stick it out to become the only USNA ring knocker in our family despite the many IHTFP (ask any USNA grad) moments he, like many others, experienced.

It should thus have come as no surprise to anyone that in the mid-1970s Webb would be most outspoken in opposing the introduction of women into what he obviously considers a hallowed academy for heroic warriors. He lost that political battle, but he fought the good fight for what he believed in without quitting and without pouting...unlike his subsequent performance as SecNav.

How very sad.

As is his turning against his former party and our commander in chief in a time of war.
-- Thomas E. Stuart
Public School Teacher
(and Vietnam vet)
Kapa'au, Hawaii

NO MILLER TIME
Re: Jim Terp's letter (under "The Man Who Wasn't There") in Reader Mail's Over Newt:

Harris Miller did not receive support from the editorial board of The Washington Times, contrary to letter writer Jim Terp of Arlington, Va. Our editorials have not mentioned him this cycle -- nor could I find a mention of him at any point in the last five years.
-- Brendan Conway
Editorial Writer
The Washington Times
Washington, D.C.

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