White House Wag: Political Hot Air

Is the weather making some politicans crazy from the heat? ABCNEWS' Josh Gerstein analyzes some curious comments coming from our political leaders in the last week.

By Josh GersteinABCNEWS.com

M A R T H A’S V I N E Y A R D, Mass. Aug. 6 — As President Clinton golfs, eats and fund-raises his way through a four-day vacation, reporters covering him are assigned duty stations in a stuffy, muggy elementary school gymnasium — which can lead a journalist to wonder if the summer weather has taken its toll on politicians of all stripes, provoking them to produce more hot air than usual. Here are some recent statements from our nation’s politicos which might have benefited from more cool-headed consideration:

“You know, they’ve gotten in a lot of — at least a little stir lately because Mr. Cheney, was he was in Congress, voted against letting Nelson Mandela out of prison … Thank God, nobody listened to the vote that was cast by the Republican nominee for vice president.” — President Clinton at a fundraiser Monday in Palm Beach, Fla.

Nothing obviously silly about that, at least until you know a bit more about the venue. Clinton was speaking to a fundraiser benefiting Bill Nelson, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Connie Mack. The president helped Nelson raise more than $1.2 million that day.

According to White House aides, the president was totally unaware that Nelson, who served in Congress along with Cheney, also voted against the resolution calling for Mandela’s release. (Nelson’s vote was first reported by National Review Online at about the same time as the president’s remarks.) Nelson’s explanation for his vote is essentially the same as Cheney’s, namely, that Mandela’s party were still communists and had refused to renounce violence.

Asked if Clinton was equally “horrified” to learn of Nelson’s vote, spokesman Elliot Diringer said the president was “not as horrified to learn of Nelson’s record” on apartheid. The White House says Nelson generally supported sanctions against the South African regime, while Cheney did not. But Diringer made clear, the president thinks Nelson’s vote on the Mandela resolution “was the wrong vote.” And so, what some has seen as a rare point of moral clarity in the political arena, descends into the usual muddle.

“And then you cross the Potomac on approach to the Pentagon. And just before you settle down on the landing pad, you look out upon Arlington National Cemetery, its gentle slopes and crosses row on row.” — Republican vice-presidential nominee Dick Cheney speaking Wednesday at the GOP convention in Philadelphia.

With this emotional, Peggy Noonan-esque vignette, Cheney actually managed to do the impossible: convince Republicans that there can be something noble about modern Washington. But, as a United Press International dispatch pointed out, accuracy was sacrificed for the poetry. The rows and rows of grave markers at Arlington Cemetery are not crosses but plain marble slabs rounded at the top. (Families can request that a cross or star of David be engraved on the headstone.) Cheney (or his speechwriter) may have drawn inspiration from Flanders Fields, a poem about the soldiers killed in World War I.

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