‘Inside the Beltway’

By Rebecca Hagelin

When I read the Washington Times, whether online or in its traditional paper form, the first thing I do after scanning the headlines on page one is turn to John McCaslin’s column, “Inside the Beltway.” It’s always got the best tidbits on the most interesting “stuff” of Washington, which is why many folks around the country now make it a regular stop on their daily reading list.

Recently, I hosted a book event for John McCaslin at the Heritage Foundation to introduce folks to his new book by the same name, “Inside the Beltway” – a must-read for all those interested in the personalities and moves of “Washington types”. Why would I host an event and dedicate a column to material not seen as “hard news”? Because most times you can learn more about the character of a person when they think no one is watching.

But John McCaslin is always watching, so to speak. The wild popularity of his column sends the best news his way via some 1,000 e-mails a day from his eyes and ears in Washington and beyond. Veteran journalist that he is, John only uses tips from trusted sources and/or items he can verify. And many of these great insights into the lives of the powerful are included in his book in more expansive form than the space allotted for his daily column.

There’s something about John you should know: He’s a perfect gentleman – the type rarely seen anywhere these days, let alone in Washington. And he is a warm, attentive father to his beautiful and poised 16-year-old daughter, Kerry, who often accompanies him on speaking engagements. John’s writing reflects his thoughtful, deliberate style – a style that is thoroughly engaging, but never mean or crass.

He simply collects the type of information a lot of reporters miss, the kind that gives insight into what type of person they’re covering, and reports it in a manner that creates a vivid snapshot of the scene in your mind. As the popularity of McCaslin’s column demonstrates, if you are known for collecting enough accurate “inside” information and sharing it in a manner that is useful, folks come to respect, trust and rely on you for the “real scoop.”

John’s book also shares some of the reactions from readers of his columns – which is a great way to gauge how average citizens are responding to what they learn about their leaders. For instance, one passage is about a column McCaslin wrote on Christmas Eve, and how it “played” with folks around the nation. The column covered Al Gore’s remarks launching a Clinton administration initiative to end homelessness.

In typical Gore-speak, the vice president called for a “reinvention” of homeless programs, then couldn’t help but add: “And speaking from my own religious tradition in this Christmas season, 2,000 years ago a “homeless” woman gave birth to a “homeless” child in a manger because the inn was full.

McCaslin then tells how readers unloaded on Gore’s faulty history and how one pointed out that Joseph and Mary weren’t homeless, they were just fleeing the same government taxes that today drive other married couples from similar shelter. But there was another “unexpected” message on McCaslin’s phone.

It was from a woman who had been a teacher but had lost her profession, and later her home, because of a violent attack on her. “Perhaps your article has let me know this very minute that what has happened to me is a blessing from the Lord and there is some reason that this has happened,” she said. He published her message the next day – on Christmas.

A lot of this book is laugh-out-loud funny. McCaslin quotes Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., as he, shall we say, bobbles a biblical quote. During the debate over whether to confirm one of President Clinton’s nominees for surgeon general, Lautenberg said, “If you have the first sin, then pass the stone.” Which is … hmmm … sort of close to: “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” One reader wrote that he liked the senator’s version better. “It confirms my suspicion that people with kidney stones are a bad lot, a very bad lot,” he wrote.

The book also skewers the notion that Washington is but two warring camps – the conservatives and the liberals. Turns out they spend a lot of time together, and not much of it with hatchet in hand.

For instance, did you know that, just days after taking office, President Bush invited Robert Byrd, staunch Democratic senator from West Virginia, and his wife to dinner at the White House? Just the four of them – the senator and his wife; President Bush and Laura. And what impressed Sen. Byrd the most? “I like the fact that he said grace,” the senator told McCaslin. “He asked God’s blessing upon the food.”

Also, it turns out that, even in the darkest days of MonicaGate, President Clinton invited Cal Thomas, hero of both the religious and the right whose column is the most widely syndicated in American newspapers today, to the annual White House Christmas party. McCaslin tells the story Thomas told him about meeting a Secret Service guard that night. “… the agent said, “You know, I’m a Christian, and I honestly feel that I’ve been strategically placed her to pray for the president. And I do, every day.”

So President Bush says grace. And President Clinton had Secret Service agents secretly praying for him – believing they’d been put there by God for that purpose. Great to know. Only we wouldn’t have … if not for John McCaslin.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. “Inside the Beltway” is a book that has what folks crave: the inside information on the people who run our country. What makes them tick. What they do when the spotlights aren’t on. Who they really are.

Thanks for the peek behind the curtains, John – it’s important to know what kind of people are running the show.

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