Harry Vs. Congress

Posted July 23, 2007 at 6:28pm

It’s not even a fair fight. Harry Potter has a magic wand and years of wizardry school behind him. All Congress has to offer is lists of subcommittees and badly lit photos that should have been retired a decade ago. [IMGCAP(1)]

In the book wars, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the latest installment of the boy-wizard series, handily beat the world’s greatest deliberative body, knocking “Congress at Your Fingertips” off its comfortable perch as the perennial best-selling book last week at the Capitol Hill bookstore Trover Shop.

“Congress at Your Fingertips” is that spiral-bound book featuring photos and contact information for every Member of Congress. It’s well-known to Hill denizens, and it’s the Pennsylvania Avenue bookstore’s longtime bestseller — until the wee hours of Saturday morning, that is, when the 759-page final installment in the popular kids’ series went on sale. “It was first by a long shot,” says Trover Shop co-owner Al Shuman of the boy-wonder book. “We were very happy.” But Shuman declined to release at least one of the secrets surrounding the book — how many copies the store actually sold.

Department of Wrong Trees. The e-mail inboxes of Hill staffers, journalists and other Washington, D.C., types are even more stuffed than usual, thanks to the e-mail-happy presidential campaigns. The campaign missives usually update followers about the doings from the trail and encourage fundraising and other grass-roots activity — some with an alarming frequency. (Who knew there were so many senior centers in Iowa?)

Though much has been made of the whiz-bang role of technology in the campaign, the myriad e-mails aren’t always hitting the mark: A staffer from a prominent Senate GOP office recently was surprised to find himself counted among the supporters of none other than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), a candidate who, it’s pretty safe to say, isn’t drawing much support from Republican ranks. “It’s absurd,” the staffer says of the e-mails congratulating him for all he’s done to help the New York Democrat.

In the latest e-mail, sent Monday, the candidate informed the bewildered Republican she was “proud to have you by my side as we take our country back after six and a half years of cronyism and corruption, incompetence and deception.”

That, clearly, was news to him.

A spokesman for Clinton’s campaign noted that anyone can sign up to receive the e-mails. Meaning the Republican staffer could have a wiseacre friend to thank for signing him up as a Clinton supporter.

Party Like It’s 1959. The GOP has long struggled to shake its white-bread rep as a party unfriendly to minorities. That’s why some readers of a daily GOP update were a little perplexed to see the e-mail’s “quote of the day” was from a guy whom Republicans probably aren’t too keen on making the face of their party: former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), circa 1959.

The quote itself, featured on the Republican Study Committee’s daily e-mail update, didn’t raise any eyebrows. “If freedom is right and tyranny is wrong, why should those who believe in freedom treat it as if it were a roll of bologna to be bartered a slice at a time?” reads the quotation, one of Helms’ oft-cited, tough-talking lines. But the messenger, not the message, drew some puzzled looks.

Helms is well-known as a staunch right-wing conservative whose stances against affirmative action and a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. made him one of Congress’ most controversial figures.

An RSC spokesman says the quote was simply supposed to be a zinger that anyone would appreciate, regardless of their opinion of Helms.

“After weeks of trying to cut out the fat from bloated Democrat appropriations bills, we know that Republicans love freedom and Democrats are full of bologna,” RSC spokesman Brad Dayspring responded. “Given that reality, we felt that the quote’s themes of freedom and bologna seemed particularly timely and would have broad bipartisan appeal.”

Questionable Questions. Presidential candidates have to be ready for anything, from eating their way through a gazillion state fairs to fielding tricky policy questions. But queries submitted for last night’s Democratic presidential debate, sponsored by CNN and YouTube, could test even the most veteran of politicos. Even HOH, who is rarely at a loss for words, isn’t quite sure how she’d prep candidates on how, for example, to answer an animated bobble-headed President Bush while keeping a straight face.

The supposedly paradigm-shifting debate format called for citizens to pose their own questions to the candidates via homemade videos posted on YouTube. Many of the submissions, though, were more quirky than thought-provoking.

In one of the loonier examples, “Dick GhostMoon” wanted to know the candidates’ position on creating an open forum on the existence of aliens. (Suggestion to candidates: Drop a reference to Captain Kirk, whose Riverside, Iowa, birthplace should give them an edge in the upcoming Iowa straw poll.) And while HOH is pretty sure CNN will stick to meatier, viewer-submitted questions, comedians calling themselves “Jackie Broyles and Dunlap” of Murfreesboro Tenn., donned bumpkin-wear to ask a pertinent question of would-be nominees: Do they feel bad that Al Gore can generate more media buzz when he, say, drops a few pounds than most of the candidates who actually are in the race?

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