Playing With a Full Deck?

The King of Diamonds is an ax-wielding President Clinton amid a field of chopped-down cherry trees. The King of Hearts is Vice President Gore, depicted as a sweaty bellhop who is struggling to hoist baggage labeled "Monica," "Travelgate" and "Chinagate." King of Spades George W. Bush is a grinning, cowboy-booted frat boy, holding a martini in one hand and wads of cash in the other, while the Six of Diamonds shows George Stephanopoulos and Monica Lewinsky snuggling on a love seat and reading each other's tell-all books.

These 54 Politicards--which include Mark Russell and Bill Maher as the Jokers--are the work of Los Angeles artist Peter Green. "We can laugh at our government, but it's our responsibility to do something about the situation," Green told us. "We don't want to have fun just for the sake of having fun. We want to try to make a difference." Thus each deck comes with a brochure offering advice on "How to Make an Honest Politician." How quaint.

We attempted to get reaction from, among others, Clinton, Bush, Stephanopoulos and Lewinsky--but only the ever-accommodating Gore camp returned our call. "Gore is the King of Hearts?" asked press secretary Chris Lehane, phoning yesterday from the vice president's plane as it approached Council Bluffs, Iowa. "Well, we are focused not on playing cards, but on the hearts of the people of Iowa and New Hampshire."

Green said his personal favorite is the Clinton card, in which the president--holding up his left hand, not his right one, as he swears to tell the truth--has "got this great, 'feel-my-pain' look on his face." Green said he hopes to sell 1.5 million decks at $6.95 a pop. "They're perfect for autograph-hunters," he said. "You can get all your cards signed if you hang out in D.C. long enough. We're hoping it's the adult Pokemon product."

"I think basically the press has been sensitive to that. And I am profoundly grateful for that."

-- In a man-bites-dog moment during an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, President Clinton heaps praise on the Fourth Estate for exercising restraint in its Chelsea coverage.


* Madeleine Albright had Yasser Arafat to lunch at her Georgetown home yesterday--the first U.S. secretary of state to host such a personal meal for the Palestinian leader. "I explained to him that my three daughters always get a kick out of the fact that somebody like him can come to my house and sit at the same dining room table in the same house that they grew up in--and I think he liked being in a family setting," Albright told us after the wild-mushroom consomme, grilled chicken breast, steamed winter veggies and hazelnut chocolate timbale. Was it nerve-racking? "No, it wasn't nerve-racking," she replied, "because I didn't cook!"

* When not working his wizardry on Washington's basketball team, Michael Jordan will need a place to hang his hat. We hear that he has asked for info on the penthouse pads in the Ritz-Carlton condominiums still under construction on M Street NW. The pads go for up to $5 million.

* Michigan Rep. John Dingell, 73, heads to Bethesda Naval Medical Center today to have his ski-injured left ankle fused.

* "Anonymous" shmanonymous! The author of "The Running Mate," a political novel due out in April from Dial Press, says his name is Joe Klein.

* Litigious Patricia Duff is having another bad court week in her custody battle against ex-husband Ronald Perelman over their 5-year-old daughter, Caleigh. On Wednesday, Barry Levin--the latest in a score of lawyers that Duff has hired and fired--pleaded with New York Supreme Court Justice Eileen Bransten to let him quit. "I have no communication with my client whatsoever," he complained, according to Associated Press. "She's canceled meetings, she won't return my calls, berates my staff, berates me." Tough, said the judge. Meanwhile, a source close to Duff told us yesterday that "there's a real concern about the integrity of the judicial system."

* Reform Party presidential prospect Donald Trump seems ready to pull a Warren Beatty. His feet are losing temperature over recent political infighting, and he told AP: "If the party is in the shape it's in now, I am less inclined to run."

* After reading yesterday's item about Donna Shalala's health secrets, Geoffrey Mumford, treasurer of the U.S. Hang Gliding Association, invited the health and human services secretary to take up his sport. Shalala--unbelievably--is game. "It sounds like fun for the year after next," she told us. "It might be just the thing I need to replace the adrenaline rush of serving in the Cabinet."