washingtonpost.com  > Columns > The Reliable Source
Reliable Source - Richard Leiby

Social (Bzzzt!) Ow! (Bzzt!) Security!

By Richard Leiby
The Washington Post
Thursday, March 17, 2005; Page C03

Department of Electrolocution: It's an enduring Washington cliche that Social Security is the "third rail" of American politics -- as in, anyone who touches the program gets electrocuted, politically speaking. As he promotes his Social Security overhaul around the country, President Bush is riding the line to death, saying, in effect, that by daring to tamper with this third rail, he's showing political courage.

At yesterday's White House news conference, for instance, Bush said Social Security was called the third rail "because when you talked about it, you got singed, at the minimum." But as The Post's Mark Leibovich reports, it was only the latest example of the president's struggle to arrive at another way of saying "electrocuted."

_____Live Online_____
Join new Reliable Source Richard Leiby Thursdays at noon ET to share tips, chew the fat and discuss the dish in his daily column.

• In Tampa, Bush said Social Security "used to be called the third rail of American politics -- if you touched it, you would be shocked. Sometimes shocked out of politics."

• In Westfield, N.J., he said: "If you touch it, you would get a huge electric shock."

• In Louisville, he explained: "You grab hold of it, and you get politically executed."

• In South Bend, Ind., he cautioned: "You grab ahold of it, and you get electrified."

• In Raleigh, he warned that "if you touched it, there would be certain political death."

We thus conclude that our president has trouble with the nuances of English. Shocking!

Where's the Bison? Alexandria.

No dessert till you've finished that T-bone: Ted Turner was in town promoting his new eatery. (Michael Williamson - The Washington Post)
• Having a celebrity name attached to a new restaurant doesn't guarantee success, but in the case of Ted Turner's new eatery in Alexandria, it doesn't hurt in terms of ginning up publicity. The motormouth billionaire swept into town yesterday to promote his latest venture: Ted's Montana Grill, which boasts an "all-American menu," including beef and bison entrees.

"A celebrity name doesn't mean squat," Turner told us. "You might get people in once. You've got to be fantastic. . . . There are only two types of people in the restaurant business: the quick and the dead."

Turner, who owns 1.7 million acres of ranch land in the West, got into the restaurant biz three years ago, partnering with the founder of the LongHorn Steakhouse chain. Now he has outlets in 13 states. We asked the 66-year-old CNN founder, who remains on the board of Time Warner, to come up with a slogan for his latest outlet, one that would fit on a sandwich board (because we love the notion of Turner himself trolling for customers on Eisenhower Avenue).

He hestitated a few seconds, then said: "Eat at Ted's." Hungry yet?

All the World's a Screenplay

• Think about it: Enron, the movie -- who gets to play Ken Lay?

Director Steven Soderbergh and his Panavision reading glasses. (Bob Marshak)
Gene Hackman? Burt Reynolds? "Not too fast," says Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, who co-hosted a book party here Tuesday night for his pal Kurt Eichenwald, a New York Times reporter. The pair got to know each other when Soderbergh agreed to make a movie based on "The Informant," Eichenwald's book about Archer Daniels Midland mole Mark Whitacre (to be played by Matt Damon). Shooting for that begins next fall, but now the spotlight is on Eichenwald's new book, "Conspiracy of Fools," a retelling of the rise and fall of Enron.

"I was frequently channeling Steven as I was writing it," the author told The Post's Jose Antonio Vargas. Soderbergh cut in: "Yes, he was. Kurt knew that, someday, I'd read it."


• Revisionist history: The Sam's Club in Woodbridge will host Newt Gingrich on Saturday for a signing of his latest book, "Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract With America." A news release promoting the event lays out the former House speaker's accomplishments: "During his stay at the White House, Gingrich orchestrated the first Contract With America, which resulted in sweeping reforms and remarkable economic recovery nationwide." Really? President Gingrich did all that? No wonder he hasn't dampened speculation that he might run for prez (again?) in '08. The firm helping to market the book told us yesterday the error was because of an "apparent disconnect" by the release's author.

Martin Sheen, aka President Bartlet on "The West Wing," wants a change in policy over at the Interior Department. On the behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Sheen dashed off a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, urging her to ban leg-hold traps in national parks. His March 11 missive cited the "pain and agony" of abandoned dogs recently caught in "these barbaric devices" in Badlands National Park. An Interior spokesman told us: "Apparently with this particular situation, a communications error let the traps not be checked as frequently as they should have been and the Park Service really regrets that. . . . I understand the problem has been taken care of." He also promised a response to President Sheen's letter.

Muhammad Ali is spending St. Patrick's Day at the Austrian Embassy. Why? Because he's sharing the stage there tonight at a peacemaking awards ceremony put on by Search for Common Ground, a conflict-resolution group. The boxing legend, known for his international goodwill efforts, will be honored along with former Prince George's County gang rivals Henry "Hank" Johnson and Dominic Taylor, who called a truce after decades of violence.

With Anne Schroeder

© 2005 The Washington Post Company