Episode 63, with guests Theo LeCompte and Robert Merry (and guest co-host Matt Mackowiak)

Theo LeCompte and Robert Merry are our guests this week.
Special guest co-host Matt Mackowiak, founder of Potomac Strategy Group.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: July 21, 2012 on SiriusXM Satellite Radio “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6:00 am, 12 noon and 6:00 pm.
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Show also available for download on Apple iTunes by clicking here.

“Tanned, rested and ready.” That’s how Richard Nixon described himself as he embarked on his 1968 campaign for the White House. And that’s how I feel after two weeks covering the highways and byways of Western Maine and New York’s Catskills with family and friends. We’re back at Polioptics now, with a fresh Episode 63 as we begin our forward march toward Election Day: November 6, 2012. If you haven’t yet registered to vote (and are eligible) please do so.

But first, a few words about the hiatus.

Maine’s Angus King

In Maine, I connected with my old friend, Angus King III (no relation), and his brothers Duncan and James, for our annual foursome at Toddy Brook Golf Course in North Yarmouth.  The King Brothers’ dad, Angus II, the Independent two-term former governor of Vacationland, is running to replace Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who earlier this year announced her retirement from the U.S. Senate. It’s not an overstatement to describe this race as historic. If Angus wins, and current polls show him in a strong position, he’ll go to Washington in an immensely powerful position for a freshman senator. If the model of running as an Independent works and, a few cycles down the road, the 100-person body has 4-6 senators like Angus who don’t owe their allegiance to either party, it could change dramatically how business gets done in Washington.

When in Maine, we stay with my in-laws at their place on Kezar Lake in Lovell, a hamlet on the Western border of which the writer Stephen King (also no relation) is quite fond. Read King’s writeup in Downeast Magazine of Rosie’s Diner, a great joint for a burger and fries at the counter or an ice cream with the kids after a long day pursuing large mouth bass on the lake. Another great haunt nearby is Ebenezer’s Pub, a shack just off the third hole of Lake Kezar Country Club, where my son, Toby, was the designated golf cart driver for a lovely Sunday morning round. Ebenezer’s has a better beer selection than any place I’ve ever been, urban or rural.

Speaking of Toby, as we drove back to Rye, New Hampshire from Lovell, we stopped at Monkey Trunks, an amazing outdoor adventure facility where experienced instructors fit you with a helmet, strap you into a harness, and let you loose on a series of increasingly hairy airborne jungle gyms and ziplines that reach 30′ in the air. Did I do it this time? No! I simply helped my 7-year old get geared up and take to the sky, and he did, demonstrating astonishing felicity and courage for a kid whose climbing exploits usually extend no further than the living room sofa or his top bunk in the bedroom. Next stop: K2? We’ll see what his mother says…

More my speed, literally, was the White Lake Speedway, on Route 16 in Tamworth, New Hampshire as Toby and I made our way South toward Rye. With Toby riding shotgun in our aging go-kart, I’m a speed demon at 15 mph. After taking the checkered flag, we drove another mile and stopped at the Yankee Smokehouse in nearby West Ossipee, makers of the best BBQ north of Fancy Farm, Kentucky.

Moving over to the Catskills, Toby and his sister, Annabelle, along with their cousins, Sam and Charlie, enjoyed a day at Zoom Flume in East Durham, New York, an oasis of water slides and rides that seems to rise up suddenly from the farmlands nestled between the mountain towns of the Catskills and the verdant burgs of the Hudson River Valley.

This stop was a welcome respite before our primary mission of the trip: catching the four large mouth bass that populated the little pond next to our house in Windham and releasing them in a nearby body of water where their mischief wouldn’t upend the fragile ecosystem of minnows, frogs and turtles that have been burgeoning among the algae. Using night crawlers at the end of our hooks, two of the bass quickly came on the line and were successfully transferred, but two remained elusive. They wouldn’t bite no stinking worms. Upping the ante, we caught a few shiners at nearby Colgate Lake and put them on the end of the hook, which the bass tried to snatch within seconds. By the end of the day: mission accomplished!

In Windham, I refreshed my memory of the story of Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving, who fell asleep in the Catskills for 20 years only to awaken to find the American Revolution over and a new nation replacing the colonies ruled by George III. The United States and been born and with it, the presidency, which seemed a perfect segue to conclude the upstate hiatus of Polioptics.

Indeed, when we were last on the air, Nicolle Wallace and I welcomed David Maraniss to talk about his new book, BARACK OBAMA: The Story. As our show was airing, Mitt Romney was on his own hiatus at his home on the shores of Lake lake Winnipesaukee, conferring with aides and hosting his family at the “Romney Olympics,” duly covered by our frequent Polioptics guest, Ashley R. Parker of the New York Times. Romney seemed to be in a good position, profiting from a challenging June for President Obama.

When, like Rip Van Winkle, we awoke and returned to the air, the roles had been reversed, and Governor Romney was withering under constant attack by the Obama Campaign in Chicago (and aided, by their comments, more than a few Republicans) to release multiple years of his income tax returns. As always in the new age of Polioptics, expertly edited and produced campaign ads, which saw air not only in purchased media buys but also in repeated airings on cable news shows, hammered away at the message that Romney might be hiding something. Romney was correct in complaining that more tax returns would only feed Democratic oppo research guys, but the complaints seemed to compound and extend the story. We’ll see where it goes from here.

Theo LeCompte plying his trade in front of the cameras

Where it goes from here, in six weeks or so, is Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte is the site, starting September 3, of the Democratic National Convention, marking the first time since 1988 (my first convention, in Atlanta) that the Democrats have held their quadrennial gathering in the South. In our conversation, in which I was joined by Matt Mackowiak as guest co-host, we talked with Theo Leompte, a one-time ace advance man and now the convention’s chief operating officer. In the episode, Theo goes into deep detail about what to takes to ready a city for the world’s spotlight.

And, as a special bonus to the segment (unless Polioptics Producer Katherine Caperton edits it out unbeknownst to me), listeners will be treated to my vocal stylings in my rendition of a song I once composed about Theo’s future bride, the former Jenni Engebretsen. The song, which pales poorly against the original “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her,” by Simon & Garfunkel, was composed as a duet with my pal Adam Rosman, the follow-on to our original smash hit, “Dulles Toll Road,” sung to the tune of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things.”

Robert Merry

While 2012 dominates so much of the popular conversation about politics, this year has been somewhat refreshing on the bookshelves, where new releases allow readers to go in-depth into the past courtesy of the extraordinary work of writers and historians. We’ve talked about Robert Caro’s Passage of Power a number of times on the show, and also welcomed as a guest Nancy Gibbs, author of The President’s Club.

Add to that list Robert Merry, who joined us on the show this week to talk about his new book: Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians. Merry, a fixture of Washington journalism who is editor of The National Interest and author of an acclaimed 2009 biography of James K. Polk called A Country of Vast Designs, establishes himself with his new work as the Commissioner of Washington’s Favorite Parlor Game: rating the presidents. After they leave office, how does history treat them? By considering the verdict of the electorate, the analysis of academics and the periodic surveys that stack one man over another, Bob Merry looks at all the angles.

Do you have your own list of the best and worst presidents? Listen to this episode of Polioptics and compare yours to Bob’s.

It’s good to be back. Talk to you next week!

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