by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Palm Beach, Fla.
February 1, 2006
SOUTH CAROLINA'S SEN. GRAHAM STAKES OUT A BILLIONAIRE'S PLAYGROUND
PALM BEACH, Fla., Jan. 31, 2006 -- Forty-eight hours before Pres. George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union Address, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham showed off his stand-up comedy routine for the rich and richer of this famed Florida haven, some of whom favor Graham in a rumored White House run.
It wasn't lost on the crowd that they were also speaking to the only member of either house of Congress who is still active in the National Guard and Reserve (he's a member of the South Carolina Air National Guard).
Working the crowd of 200 members and guests of the Palm Beach County Republican Club at the posh Colony Hotel, a site more accustomed to the debut of socialites' scions than presidential contenders, the shortest member of the Senate Armed Services and Judiciary Committees touched all the required GOP talking points and probably made some new friends.
After a folksy, seemingly sincere, and not-too-hurried waltz through the cocktail reception, Graham, who now holds the Senate seat held for half a century by the late Strom Thurmond, took the microphone for a brief "remark."
The "remark" lasted 25 minutes, was mostly off-the-cuff and was followed by questions. The entire performance, in fact, was reminiscent of the late "Aw shucks, I'm just a country lawyer" paradigm of North Carolina's Sen. Sam Ervin, the famous Watergate Era Democrat whose hicvkster routine hid the mind of a brilliant Constitutional scholar. Graham, 51, who said he learned politics in South Carolina from a father who "owned a liquor store, a beer joint, and a pool hall," first won the national spotlight with piercing questions and a softly persuasive voice during the Clinton impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives.
"When I was elected to the House I was the first Republican from that District in 120 years!" he noted.
But the biggest ovation came when Graham declared, "The death tax is dead forever!" The death tax is better known, of course, as the estate tax, and is designed to prevent dynasties from arising in a country where billionaires already hold important public offices (Mayor of New York City, for instance) and great political sway (Enron's Ken Lay was President George W. Bush's largest political campaign contributor during the 2000 election cycle).
The audience of blue-blazered and Giorgio Armani-ed men with perfectly coiffed snow-white hair and silk breast-pocket handkerchiefs, loved the comment. The ladies, dressed in every hue of luxury as long as it was black, split the chandelier brilliance of the moment with darting rays of their diamond bling, and seemed to appreciated Graham's tribute to estate planning.
"The so-called death tax produces less than 2 percent of all the revenue for the country. When we do away with the death tax forever, the disruption to families, and businesses, and communities caused by this tax will disappear and families will have ore money to invest in the country," he said. The estate tax goes to an unlimited exemption in 2010, or, put another way, unless Congress comes up with a new estate tax code, you can leave your heirs $10 million or $10 billion tax-free - the ceiling is unlimited.
But the rapid-fire jokes got some people wondering if Lindsey Graham should be added to names such as McCain, Allen, and Rice when talking about the White House in 2008.
Predicting today's Senate approval of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, Graham's quips included:
Graham, whose televised apology to Alito's wife for the Democratic attacks on her husband made her start to cry, said that Mrs. Alito later apologized to him for tearfully fleeing the Judiciary Committee hearing room. "I told her it is we who should apologize to her, on behalf of people who want to take a judge's judge, a man of honor, and paint him as some kind of prejudiced bigot."
On New Orleans, Graham said a Democrat in the White House would have "thrown money at the entire city and ended up with nothing. President Bush and Congress will work with Magic Johnson and other black entrepreneurs and go across the street from a flooded house, to a lot that was not flooded, and build a strip shopping plaza where stores never existed before and people can return to live in a real, thriving community."
Three times Graham told the group that he had enjoyed working on service- related and Veterans' Affairs issues with one possible Democratic presidential contender, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
"We don't see eye-to-eye on many things, but I hope no Republican underestimates the power of two Clintons campaigning for the White House once again around this country!" he declared.
On Iraq, he called for completion of the U.S. mission of making Iraqi forces self-reliant. Regarding U.S. troops, he called for expansion of his bill, recently signed into law, giving armed forces medical benefits to families of reservists and Guardsmen, just as active duty soldiers receive.
Praising the beginning of democracy there, he said "Iraq is the only nation in its region where a mother can now have a say about her children. It's as simple as establishing human rights, and being there because it is the right thing to do."
But the applause was neither loud nor enthusiastic, and some loyal Republicans glanced at each other in alarm, when Graham declared, "Like many leaders, George Bush won't be appreciated in his time. He has had to make tough decisions. Sure, Hamas wins an election in Palestine. I was surprised, but that is the democratic process. All of President Bush's policies will not be seen as successes, but many will.
"He will be the Winston Churchill of his time!" Graham predicted a commanding voice. That won a few discreet laughs.