In the year 2000, the U.S. Congress had achieved a level of Do-Nothingness so noteworthy that we decided to take note — by instituting the Diddly Awards. In the Senate, Trent Lott occupied those days plotting tiny acts of revenge, while the House, under the Potemkin leadership of Dennis Hastert, produced not a single bill worth discussing. It was, after all, a Congress that mourned the death of Sonny Bono in 1998 as a blow to its intellectual gravitas.
Today’s Congress is far more accomplished. The members passed an enormous tax cut in the teeth of a recession — taking us from surplus to deficit so quickly that not even the talk-radio gasbags could convincingly pin the blame on our all-weather scapegoat, Bill Clinton. Then, of course, Congress responded to September 11 with the swift passage of the Patriot Act — a retreat from the spirit of our Constitution so un-thought-out that it made Lincoln’s wartime suspension of habeas corpus look positively democratic. In these efforts, and much more, our Congress has signed off on massive, tectonic legislation without so much as a moment’s pause. One could easily argue that the return of the imperial presidency has less to do with Dick Cheney’s powers of persuasion than with the doormat disposition of this Congress.
The Do-Nothing 106th Congress has passed its baton. All hail the Question-Nothing 107th Congress. Having abandoned its essential constitutional duty, this Congress has had lots of spare time to do, once again, diddly. The envelopes, please…
The Celebrity Mongering Award
Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) summoned Elmo, the Sesame Street character made of red felt, to the Capitol to testify on the importance of music education. Said one political analyst who witnessed the event, “Elmo has higher poll ratings than most members of Congress. They like to be in his reflective glory.” At the end, the Muppet insisted, not altogether convincingly, “Elmo is not making a mockery of this place.”
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) complained to the media about having to talk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist at a White House dinner when Clint Eastwood was there. “I had my back to all the action,” he noted. Reps. George Gekas (R-Pa.) and Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) conferred with 7-foot, 2-inch Philadelphia 76er Dikembe Mutombo to discuss health care. “We believe this is a gigantic first step,” Gekas said.
Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) was mugging with Bono long before Paul O’Neill ever heard of the guy. Helms went to a U2 concert, turned off his hearing aid, and later offered anthropological notes on this new teenage craze called rock ‘n’ roll: “When Bono shook his hips, that crowd shook their hips…It was filled to the gills, and people were moving back and forth like corn in the breeze.”