June 23, 2004

A Correction

Yesterday, I asserted that John Kerry had cast his 15th vote of the year, having made a special trip to the nation’s capital to show his support for a bill to boost veterans’ benefits. As it turns out, the vote never took place, and the senator, despite his protestations of solid support for the measure, got out of Dodge. The vote will take place without him.

This means Sen. Kerry still has missed 116 of 130 votes in the Senate this year, an 11 percent attendance record. By way of contrast, Sen. Robert Dole at this stage in the 1996 campaign showed up for 92 percent of the votes in the Senate and Sen. Joe Lieberman was around for 79 percent of the tallies in 2000.

By the way, the senator’s staff has informed reporters that Sen. Kerry during his brief visit to Washington did scarf down a bowl of Navy Bean Soup, the official delicacy of the United States Congress.

Why should navy bean soup enjoy such a hallowed reputation at the national legislature? For the same reason prune juice vanishes by the gallon at many of the nation’s finest retirement communities. It keeps honorables, um, on the move.

The Two Faces of Bill

Bill Clinton’s biography contains a tantalizing bit of self-psychoanalysis. The former president surmises that he lives not one life, but two — “parallel lives,” he calls them. He theorizes that somewhere in the primordial ooze of his id, he seeks to fulfill not merely his own promise, but that of his father, who died before his birth. I asked Sen. Bill Frist, a certified and practicing physician, whether the parallel-lives hypothesis brands the ex-president as an authentic and official sufferer of schizophrenia (or bipolar disorder, if you prefer that term). The senator said he didn’t know, but that he did discourage self-diagnosis, hinting that the ex-president might want to seek an opinion from someone qualified to make such diagnoses.

Speaking of bipolarity, the Clinton book seems to be doing sensationally in the New York-Washington and L.A.-San Francisco corridors and O.K. or worse everywhere else. The exultation of Clinton, like the execration of George W. Bush (or, for that matter, of Bill Clinton himself), seems to be a highly concentrated affair — more a national curiosity than a bona fide fad.

Terrorists, Surrender...Soon!

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has announced a one-month amnesty for terrorists after which, he warns, the Saudi government will pursue and prosecute offenders with righteous ferocity. This seems an odd offer: Few terrorists would describe themselves as such, preferring more exalted titles (such as Keepers of the True Islam); fewer still would turn themselves in. At best, they would melt back into anonymity.

Another member of the Saudi royal family, Foreign Minister Prince Saud, announced the government did not condone jihad in Iraq and warned that Saudi citizens should not fight in Iraq. Meanwhile, intelligence sources reported that the “warriors” who this week beheaded Korean interpreter Kim Sun-il spoke with accents identical to those spoken by residents of the Arabian peninsula — the unspoken implication being that they were Saudis.

Inquiring minds want to know whether these latest decrees constitute a change in direction for Saudi Arabia or merely an alteration in oratory. As recently as this month, Saudi newspapers carried tributes to Saudis who died in Iraq fighting against the occupying coalition, and leading clerics in the country have advocated holy war against Americans.