Heard on the Hill: Emergency Makeover for Congress

Posted July 16, 2008 at 6:34pm

A new Gallup poll released Wednesday puts approval ratings for Congress at just 14 percent — the lowest in Gallup’s history of tracking Congress’ popularity. Ouch!

[IMGCAP(1)]In light of this all-time low, HOH thought she’d put on her service-journalism hat and round up some much-needed advice that might help turn things around for those poor, unpopular Congress-folk. We queried a few professionals whose job it is to help people improve their images and put their best foot forward.

Here are their ideas:

Eric Dezenhall, president of PR and crisis-management firm Dezenhall Resources, says Congress should give the people

what they want: a fuzzy mascot to put a friendlier face on the legislative branch. “The people seem to love this,” he says. “For example, If Tommy Franks had just gone into Iraq with an adorable make-believe character, say ‘Freddie Freedom,’ the whole thing would have been a cakewalk.”

Congress could learn a little something about branding from TV, he says. “If Congress had a catchy theme song like ‘Friends’ used to have, people would feel a lot better about gas prices and home foreclosures.”

Gloria Dittus, president of Dittus Communications, suggests that Congress jump on the reality-TV juggernaut and launch a show called “Congress Swap,” based on the hit show “Wife Swap.” In the new version, Members of Congress would trade places with constituents for a week.

“Imagine Joe Sixpack going from one committee meeting to another or cheerfully going through the multitude of constituent photo ops and mail. Picture Joe running from one evening reception to another, keeping up with all the constituent requests while keeping all of his staff, family and constituents happy,” she says. “Visualize a Member of Congress at home, working nine to five in an office environment and then being able to go home and spend the evening with their family or enjoying time off with their friends.” The only drawback? “The danger would be whether the Member would ever come back to Washington,” she warns.

Lisa Daily, author and dating expert, tells HOH that much of the advice she gives to clients hoping to impress dates could help Congress boost its standings. To start, watch what you wear, Daily suggests. “Men should wear more blue, which women associate with a nice, stable guy.” And for women, a “soft peachy-pink” is most approachable, she counsels.

Also, she says Members of Congress should heed this golden rule of dating: “Ask two questions for every one you answer.” In other words, don’t talk about yourself too much.

Patrick Haggerty, professional speaker and speaking coach (he’s the one who memorably got punked in the “Borat” movie) offers these tidbits: Don’t ever touch your face when speaking in public. “That’s a sign that says ‘I’m lying to you.’” And crack jokes, he says, but only if they’re not mean-spirited. “A joke makes you more likeable and says ‘I’m glad to be here and we’re going to have fun.’”

As a member of the journalism profession, which is certainly no stranger to horrific approval ratings (last we checked, we were somewhere between used-car salesmen and telemarketers), HOH can only sympathize with Congress. Oh, and hunt for a peachy-pink dress …

Change of Party Plans. Party in the Whip’s office! No wait, scratch that thought. It’s been so long since Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) faced a serious primary challenger, it seems he might have forgotten how to do it — or at least how to celebrate a primary win. An e-mail invitation went out Monday inviting people to a primary victory party in Lewis’ honor (Lewis handily won his Tuesday primary) to be held in the office suite of Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). But only 30 minutes later, a second e-mail went out informing invitees that the celebration had been “postponed to a later date and location.” After all, it’s a no-no according to the House Ethics Manual to use “official resources” for a campaign or political purpose.

Michael Collins, Lewis’ chief of staff, said the celebration wasn’t meant to be a political event, just a low-key gathering of friends to share some cake and ice cream. But he quickly realized it might not look right, so the staff scrapped the party altogether.

Because what’s a worse party foul than double-dipping a chip? Violating the House Ethics Manual.

Monkey Business, Part II. It seems Members just can’t stop monkeying around.

Back in June, the House passed legislation to ban the interstate sale of primates. Astute HOH readers might remember the bitter floor fight over the bill, when supporters argued the legislation could prevent menacing monkey bites, while opponents said Congress should instead focus on other dangerous chomps, like those at the gas pump.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) was among those who voted for the bill. But now he wants to make sure that some simians are able to travel between states — the ones who help out around the house.

The Republican introduced legislation Tuesday to allow for the interstate transfer of specifically trained capuchin monkeys, who help severely disabled people with daily activities. The bill will allow nonprofit groups such as Helping Hands to continue to provide the monkeys to folks around the country, since most of the critters are trained at a special facility in Boston.

“The service monkeys perform a variety of tasks, including retrieving dropped items, turning on the television or loading a compact disc, putting straws in drinking bottles and pushing buttons on personal computers,” Young said on the House floor. “These service monkeys provide the disabled recipients with a sense of independence.”

Members of Helping Hands were even on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to ensure some sort of “narrowly tailored” language will be passed so they can continue to provide helper monkeys to disabled people nationwide. The group’s CEO, Megan Talbert, tells HOH that her group averages 12-15 placements each year. It usually takes a decade to fully train a monkey, she said.

Now, if only HOH can get a capuchin monkey who’ll help with the dishes …

Charitable Comedy. Organizers of the Funniest Celebrity in Washington contest released this year’s participant list Wednesday, and apparently Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) is the only Member of Congress brave enough to face the tough crowd.

The annual charity event features Washington, D.C., celebs doing stand-up, ventriloquism or anything else they can think of to elicit laughter from the crowd. Several Members have taken part in past years, and Sherman has taken part before.

Former Arkansas Gov. and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also will compete, alongside 2008 Libertarian presidential candidate and former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and MSNBC host David Shuster. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page will serve as master of ceremonies, and MSNBC political analyst Chuck Todd will be among the judges.

Others entering the contest include talk show host Jim Bohannon; Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women’s Forum; Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association of America; Al Jazeera radio host Riz Khan; CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre; and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

The show is scheduled for Sept. 10 at the D.C. Improv.

A Wiki Situation. What does a candidate have to do to get a little Wiki-love? Apparently, more than just enter a Congressional race. Editors for online encyclopedia Wikipedia determined that two GOP Pennsylvania Congressional candidates weren’t important enough to get their own Wikipedia pages. Tom Manion (R), who is challenging Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), and Marina Kats (R), who is running for the seat now held by Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), had their pages removed after editors — who are actually site users, since the site is self-edited — deemed them too obscure.

The online debate, which was picked up by news site Phillyburbs.com, ultimately ended up with a determination that just being a candidate doesn’t make a person notable enough to warrant their own Wikipedia page.

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