Only two years ago, Newt Gingrich was believed to be the most powerful House speaker in history, and an innocent nation was making the acquaintance of Miss Monica Lewinsky. How time flies -- clips of the impeachment circus are already looking scratchy. Now, with all eyes on the great presidential race, it may be too easy to forget that at the root of all our recent history is this Congress -- the most witless convention of ditherers in our history.
The only amazing thing current members of Congress can claim is their own re-election two years ago. In the meantime, wheels have spun, and meaningful legislation -- the national tobacco settlement, campaign finance reform, gun control -- died in committee. But just because nothing's been done, doesn't mean that nothing happened. There were moments that were weird (Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee yelled at a staffer who failed to reserve her a limo: "You don't understand. I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen!"). And on the other hand there were moments that were deeply weird (while impeaching the president Gingrich was sleeping with a mistress who looks like she was separated at birth from Hillary). So, it seems only fitting to honor the more outstanding custodians of our democracy with the same distinction bestowed upon other underachievers whose only talent is self-perpetuation -- an awards pageant. Open the curtain upon the First Biennial Diddlies, honoring those who've done so much without doing squat. The envelopes, please.
The Award for Best Prop in a Congressional Performance
Thomas Barrett (D-Wis.), David Obey (D-Wis.), and Ron Kind (D-Wis.): The trio dressed up a staffer as a cow and presented Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl with boxing gloves to encourage him to "keep up the fight" for dairy subsidies.
Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.): The new House speaker was to have participated in a publicity stunt by standing next to a horse on the Capitol grounds -- demonstrating that Republicans were "workhorses," not "show horses." Hastert canceled, Hill rumor has it, because he's scared of horses.
Billy Tauzin (R-La.): Tauzin, whose district is largely swamp, dressed in George S. Patton helmet and medals to videotape a motivational message for Republicans depressed that Clinton's popularity continued to rise following the impeachment vote. "Stop your whining!" General Tauzin barked into the camera.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.): The website of the diminutive senator offered for sale, "Boxer Shorts."
J.C. Watts (R-Okla.): Watts joined with other gung-ho Republicans to encourage the dour GOP leadership to try an underused prop: the smile. According to a report in Roll Call , Republicans devoted a secret meeting to discuss this new strategy. "It really will not break your back if you smile around this place," Watts told the group. On the other hand, Texas Senator Phil Gramm explained to Cokie Roberts one morning why he shouldn't smile: "I didn't go to the dentist until I was 16."
And the winner is: Billy Tauzin. The Louisiana Republican trotted out the Patton garb again this year to spur GOP fundraising efforts. "If you don't like soft money, if you think it's dirty," Tauzin huffed, "collect it and bring it to us. We know how to use it."
The Billy Carter Award for Most Amusing Political Relative
Randall Todd Cunningham: The son of Duke "Death Penalty for Drug Kingpins" Cunningham (R-Calif.) was convicted for possession of 400 pounds of marijuana. In court, the congressman cried and pleaded for mercy, explaining that his son "has a good heart. He works hard. He's expressed to me he wants to go back to school." While out on bail, the hardworking son tested positive for cocaine use three times; when an officer tried to apprehend him following the third positive test, Randy hurled himself out a window and broke his leg. Still, the congressman -- who has denounced Clinton's "soft-on-crime liberal judges" and railed against "reduced mandatory-minimum sentences for drug trafficking" -- won for his son the mercy denied so many others. Randy got 30 months -- half the federal "mandatory" minimum sentence.
Claude Shelby: The son of Richard "Death Penalty for Drug Kingpins" Shelby (R-Ala.) was arrested in Atlanta for possession of 13.8 grams of hash. He was fined a $570 "administrative penalty."
Jean Bono: Sonny Bono's mom wrote an angry letter to the local paper when her daughter-in-law Mary Bono campaigned (against Pa from "The Waltons") for Sonny's vacated seat. Mom insisted that Sonny would never have endorsed Mary -- he'd want her at home raising their children.
Mary Bono (R-Calif.): Following her election, the 38-year-old former blond did in fact leave her seven- and nine-year-olds in Palm Springs with a nanny, saying, "My effectiveness as a human being will be a lot greater as a member of Congress than carpooling." She's done little else to glorify her departed's political legacy: Last November, she freaked out constituents by telling TV Guide that Sonny died because he was a drug addict whose affection for painkillers more than likely clouded his vision the day he went skiing.
And the winner is: Mary Bono. In between votes, the merry widow has been spotted in the Rayburn Room, just off the House floor, making out with her new flame, drummer Brian Prout of the band Diamond Rio.
The Award for Most Gracious Assistance Provided by a Constituent
Ken Hakuta: On the eve of the Judiciary Committee vote to impeach, the founder of AllHerb.com FedExed members of Congress a sampling of Horny Goat Weed. "In order to truly understand the president's position," he wrote, "take a nip of the enclosed aphrodisiac and then vote your conscience."
Dennis Hopper: Distraught at the resignation of Gingrich (whom he greatly admires), Hopper -- a man who has done more drugs than all the readers of this article combined -- offered this retirement advice: "Make some money, have a life, come back, kick ass."
Mujahedin-e Kahlq: Also known as the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, the group is on the State Department's hit list of terrorist groups. It's also on Robert Torricelli's (D-N.J.) hit list for campaign contributions. The group has filled the senator's coffers with at least $140,000 in $1,000 donations.
Edward Devine: Sitting at his New Jersey home drinking wildly while watching the impeachment trial (can't blame him so far), Devine grew enraged and picked up the phone, dialing the district office of impeachment manager George Gekas (R-Pa.) and leaving this message: "You suck. You make me sick. You need to be shot. You need to be executed." Devine left his name and phone number on the machine.
And the winner is: Dennis Hopper. He also pledged to the former speaker, "When you want to run for president, I will be there."
The Rank Hypocrisy Award
The Entire Republican Party: The GOP, which popularized the English First movement, announced that it would broadcast its weekly radio address in Spanish. At a Cinco de Mayo celebration sponsored by the GOP in D.C., three men in giant sombreros serenaded conservative passers-by. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch said, "What great family people you are. How great you are with your children." A handout at the event reminded attendees: "Many Mexicans joined the U.S. armed forces after Pearl Harbor in gratitude."
J.C. Watts (R-Okla.): Along with other prominent tough-on-crime Republicans, Watts sponsored the Angel Tree Christmas, a charity that hands out presents to more than half a million American children whose parents are in prison.
Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.): The campaign finance reformer was fined $9,000 by the Federal Elections Commission for campaign finance violations.
Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.): Lott claimed last spring to be unaware of the agenda of the Council of Conservative Citizens (which, in the council's own words, is the preservation of "the white genotype"). The CCC's members understandably thought of Lott as one of their own: His dues were regularly paid; their leadership had been entertained in Lott's Capitol office; a column by the senator had been published in their newsletter; and the CCC happily distributed a photograph of Lott speaking before its members. As for knowing their "agenda," even the dimmest Mississippian would get the pun: CCC, KKK.
And the winner is: Trent Lott. Only a few months before, Lott had joined other senators in a vote to condemn Nation of Islam spokesman Khallid Muhammad for calling the pope a "cracker." Lott said that it didn't "seem hypocritical to me" to later block an effort to condemn the CCC for proclaiming that America is becoming a "slimy brown mass of glop."
The Award for Best Election Story
Mike Pappas (R-N.J.): In July 1998, Pappas went onto the House floor and sang, without irony, the following lullaby:
Twinkle, twinkle Kenneth Starr,
Now we see how brave you are.
Up above the Pentagon sting,
Like a fair judge in the ring.
Twinkle, twinkle Kenneth Starr,
Now we see how brave you are.
Mark Neumann: In order to ridicule Senator Feingold's support of a study of methane gas emissions, his Republican challenger ran an advertisement featuring a scientist in a lab coat and rubber boots running behind cows with a jar. The voice-over noted, "This scientist is hard at work spending your tax dollars." He lost.
Rick Hill (R-Mont.): Hill trashed his childless opponent Nancy Keenan for not being as family-values oriented as himself, a father. Keenan had been forced to undergo a hysterectomy in 1983. He won.
Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-Idaho): The right- winger, whose concern for biodiversity is best summed up by her claim that "white Anglo-Saxon males are an endangered species," was supported by an unlikely coalition of Idaho greens in her reelection campaign against an environmentally shaky Democrat. Why? In the words of Ron Mitchell of the Idaho Sporting Congress, "Chenoweth poses no danger because she is incompetent and has no credibility with her peers in Congress." Chenoweth-Hage, who prefers being called a "congressman," won.
And the winner is: Mike Pappas, whose opponent's highly successful 1998 campaign against him consisted almost exclusively of running the audio of Pappas' congressional concert on the radio.
The Letitia Baldridge Award for Etiquette
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.): Kerry compared an appearance on shock jock Don Imus' radio program to a "proctological exam without the sexual chemistry."
Don Young (R-Alaska): Young shot the bird on the House floor at two Democrats who, an aide later explained, were being "childish."
Duke Cunningham: Discussing his prostate cancer operation at a public event, Cunningham called it "just not natural, unless maybe you're Barney Frank." Frank (D-Mass.) countered that Cunningham "may have suffered a little slight brain damage" during the anal surgery. Cunningham later apologized with an excuse that breathes fresh meaning into the term non sequitur: "I just get upset when people start bashing our military."
Merrill Cook (R-Utah): One of Utah's trio of representatives derisively known as the Three Stooges, and the millionaire owner of a dynamite company, Cook was enraged that a party ad had neglected to mention him and exploded at the state's GOP leadership: "Fuck the Republican Party!"
And the winner is: Merrill Cook, who, after informing cowering bystanders about some of the other things he would like to see fucked (such as Republican Senator Robert Bennett), instituted a zero-tolerance policy for cursing in his office.
The You-Can't-Make-This-Shit-Up Award
Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.): Murray was overheard in a D.C. Hyatt Regency conference room filled with 100 lobbyists saying: "It's really nice to be out here in the real world."
Mark Foley (R-Fla.): In an interview with E! Online, Foley swooned, "I've always been a big fan of 'Melrose Place.' I've followed Heather Locklear's career since 'Dynasty.' That's when I met her. You know Heather's going to be doing 'Spin City,' playing the mayor's political consultant. I can't wait for that."
Trent Lott: Only about a month after the impeachment vote, Lott was presented with a souvenir from the president's visit to Central America -- a huge cigar with a card reading, "Compliments of Bill Clinton."
Newt Gingrich: At an Eskimo blanket toss in Barrow, Alaska, when Gingrich insisted on having a turn, 15 Native Americans heaved-ho (for the love of God, have they not suffered enough?) to try to pop the enormous Gingrich off the blanket. An unidentified bystander observed, "He never really caught major air."
Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.): Jackson co-authored a financial self-help book with his father titled, It's About the Money! , the message of which he describes as "the fourth step in the movement of freedom" following emancipation, ending legal segregation, and gaining the right to vote.
Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio): Voinovich has a different take on financial self-help: The senator does not deny being observed plucking a penny from a urinal.
And the winner is: Jesse Jackson Jr., who -- unlike most reps who donate royalties to charity -- has said he's taking his own advice and intends to keep the money.
The There-Is-a-God Award
Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.): After having put a hold on ambassadorial nominee James Hormel because Hormel is gay, Inhofe had to explain how three of his staffers reportedly crashed his office computers by downloading too much porn. Inhofe, who had pilloried Hormel's private life, refused to comment upon his Hot Nude Babe-loving staffers out of "deference to legitimate privacy concerns."
Senator John Ashcroft (R-Mo.): At an auction for an unholy alliance known as the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, Gerald Ford's putter pulled down $700, but the devout Ashcroft's recording of himself singing gospel received no bids.
J.C. Watts Sr.: The father of J.C. Watts (R- Okla.) said: "A black man voting for the Republicans makes about as much sense as a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders."
Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.): Just after voting Clinton guilty, the family-values minister left his wife of 28 years.
And the winner is: Tim Hutchinson. The Bob Jones University alum has refused to deny rumors of a romantic involvement with an office aide.
The Award for Most Appalling Food Reference
Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas): "Don't you know who I am? I'm Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee. Where is my seafood meal?" Jackson-Lee shouted at a Continental stewardess. The airline has so tired of her imperious demeanor on weekly flights to D.C. that they suggested she fly Delta.
James Inhofe: After visiting the Balkan refugees in Kosovo, the senator noted that "they have the food that they need to eat" and that although "some 3,000 of them have lost their lives, I was shocked to find out...that they are very well off."
Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.Mex.): When Puerto Rico voted on statehood in 1998, Bingaman referred to the ballot choice to preserve the territory's current status as the "free beer and barbecue option."
Linda Smith (R-Wash.): Smith called her own speaker, Newt Gingrich, a "fat kid eating all the food."
And the winner is: Jeff Bingaman. He should know from free lunches. His wife, Anne, is a registered lobbyist for a "Bermuda-based telecommunications company." Most lobbyists, like, say, House Whip Tom DeLay's brother Randy, get paid around $10,000 to $50,000 per job. Anne received $2.5 million from the company for unspecified labors -- reportedly $1.4 million more than the second-largest amount ever recorded for a lobbyist -- ratcheting American political shenanigans into a league formerly occupied exclusively by Peru, Sri Lanka, and the suburbs of Moscow.