The Ten Most Dimwitted Members of Congress - long but ...
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 95 16:01:50 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: The Ten Most Dimwitted Members of Congress - long but ...
Forwarded-by: firstname.lastname@example.org (Nicholas Horton)
Forwarded-by: ken (Kenneth Kleinman)
BY KEN SILVERSTEIN (As published in The Progressive)
H.L. Mencken once wrote that since elections produced such dreadful results,
citizens should stop wasting their time voting and simply pick their
representatives at random from the phone book. Mencken's barb has even more
sting these days since the quality of political leadership seems to have
dropped precipitously, as a few random hours watching C-Span quickly
Identifying the ten most dimwitted members of Congress was a difficult
task. To do so, I canvassed several dozen sources-- liberal and
conservative, Democrat and Republican-- on Capitol Hill. Seven freshmen and
one sophomore won a place on the list. Thanks to the sheer brute stupidity
of these newcomers, world-class contenders like New York Senator Alfonse
D'Amato and California Representative Bob Dornan didn't even come close to
making the final cut.
Before turning to the roll call, a few caveats.
First, I intended to create a bipartisan list, but was unable to come
up with any suitable Democratic candidates. This in no way reflects the high
intellectual caliber of the party, which has its fair share of nitwits.
However, I found that while Democrats were eager to point to Republicans,
the opposite was not the case: Republicans fingered their own. "That's the
luxury you have when you're in the majority," one Democratic staffer
Second, while most of the members here come from the GOP's right wing,
it would be a mistake to conclude, as many liberals do, that conservatives
are generally dumb: Newt Gingrich and Jesse Helms are anything but stupid.
Finally, while the distinguished members of the list may enrich the
nation's political folklore, their foolishness is dangerous.
That said, the winners are:
No. 10 - Representative Martin Hoke - Ohio (first elected in 1992)
Hoke, a millionaire businessman, was a political unknown when he
defeated Representative Mary Rose Oakar in 1992. He's accomplished
little in Washington and would likely still be unknown if it weren't for
his frequent blunders.
After President Clinton's 1994 State of the Union address, Hoke and a
Democratic colleague, Eric Fingerhut, were asked for comment by a local
network affiliate. The pair was wired up by producer Lisa Dwyer. As she
walked away, Hoke-- unaware that his observations were being recorded by an
open microphone-- exclaimed in a mock accent, "She has the beeeeeg breasts."
The day after this slip, Hoke expressed a certain relief when an escaped
Ohio convict went on a murder spree, suggesting to a reporter that the
killings might knock his remark about Dwyer off the front pages of local
This was not Hoke's only slip in the area of gender politics.
Interviewed by The New York Times's Maureen Dowd about the life of the
single man on Capitol Hill, Hoke, a divorcee, replied, "I could date Maria
Cantwell or Blanche Lambert- they're hot." Cantwell and Lambert, fellow
members of Congress, were not amused.
Hoke fervently attacks "big government," but sometimes seems unfamiliar
with his target. In 1992, he was demanding urgent reform at the Federal
Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, an agency abolished three years
When Hoke defeated Oakar he had the band at his victory party play,
"Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead." Commenting on Hoke's D.C. exploits, Oakar
has suggested that the Congressman should change the tune to another song
from The Wizard of Oz: "If I Only Had a Brain."
No. 9 - Representative Don Young - Alaska (1973)
The new head of the House Resources Committee, Young is best known for
his rabid attacks on ecologists. Animal-rights advocate Mary Tyler Moore
once read a poem about the cruelty of steel-jaw leg-hold traps before the
Merchant Marine subcommittee, where Young previously served. Accompanying
Moore was Cleveland Amory, who periodically inserted a pencil in a trap,
causing it to snap shut.
The moment was highly charged and Young, as a hunter and trapper,
realized dramatic action was required to turn the tide. His solution
was to place his hand into a trap he had brought along to the hearing, and
then begin to calmly question a witness as though nothing unusual had
happened. "I never told a anyone, but it hurt like hell," Young later
confided to a Congressional staffer.
Young also made use of a visual aid at a 1994 hearing. Young waved an
18-inch oosik-- the penis bone of the walrus-- at Mollie Beattie, director
of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Beattie had suggested that Alaskan
Natives should be able to sell oosiks only as handicrafts, not uncarved, a
proposal Young derided. The incident was especially embarrassing because
Beattie is the first woman to head the Service, and the hearing marked her
debut on the Hill.
Earlier this year, a group of students in Fairbanks invited the Alaskan
wild man to speak about the GOP's "Contract with America." Young expounded
on a number of his favorite topics, including the need to slash federal
funding of the arts. The government, Young said, has funded "photographs
of people doing offensive things" and "things that are absolutely
ridiculous." One student asked Young what sort of things he had in mind.
"Buttfucking," the Congressman replied (a reference to a 1990 exhibit of
Robert Mapplethorpe photographs in Cincinnati supported by the National
Endowment for the Arts). Young defended his remarks, saying he was merely
"trying to educate" the inquisitive youngsters.
No. 8 - Representative Sonny Bono - California (1994)
Sonny Bono, the new Representative of California's forty-fourth
district, is best known in his post-Cher incarnation for his four guest
appearances on Love Boat. He didn't enter politics because of any keen
desire to better the world. He was simply mad about how long it took to
get a permit to open a restaurant in Palm Springs.
Bono's mental shortcomings have long made him a subject of scorn among
California politicians. During his run for Congress last year, Palm Desert
councilman Walt Snyder called Bono a "laughingstock," and Representative Al
McCandless charged that he took "pride in not having studied [the] issues
until just a few months ago." Snyder and McCandless, incidentally, are both
Republicans, and they both supported Bono in his race against Democrat Steve
Bono served as mayor of Palm Springs between 1988 and 1992. His
public-relations director, Marilyn Baker, later revealed to the Los Angeles
Times that she had to rewrite the mayor's agendas into script form so Bono
could conduct official business. "For call to order, I wrote, 'Sit.' For
salute the flag, I wrote, 'Stand up, face flag, mouth words.' For roll
call, I wrote, 'When you hear your name, say yes,"' recalled Baker, who quit
after three depressing months of service.
Bono's current legislative director, Curt Hollman, is charged with the
Herculean task of summarizing complex issues in short, simple memos that
Bono can comprehend. Unfortunately, Hollman can't watch during all of his
assignments. At one Judiciary Committee hearing, Bono complained, "Boy,
it's been flying in this room like I can't believe today. We have a very
simple and concise bill here, and I think it would be to everyone's pleasure
if we would just pass this thing." This prompted New York's Charles E.
Schumer to dryly reply, "We're making laws here, not sausages."
On another occasion, Bono complained that his colleagues were becoming
needlessly bogged down in "technical" matters and legalese. This about the
Judiciary Committee, which writes laws and deals with trifling matters such
as constitutional protections.
No. 7 - Representative jack Metcalf - Washington (1994)
Metcalf describes himself as "a guy willing to take some kamikaze
runs," a statement reflected in some of his policy stances. He has
advocated, for example, a return to the gold standard and the abolition of
paper money. Even The Wall Street Journal once mocked Metcalf for keeping
company with "gold bugs, tax protesters, and conspiracy theorists," and
noted with concern that he had secretly buried in the woods thousands of
dollars in silver coins in expectation that "a cataclysm of some sort [will]
engulf the nation."
Metcalf frequently adopts positions that don't square with his actions.
He is an ardent champion of term limits, yet he has served for twenty-four
years in the Washington state legislature. During the 1994 campaign, he
pounded his Democratic opponent, Harriet Spanel, with charges that she
opposed the death penalty and was generally indulgent of the criminal
element. Then, during the final days of the race, the Metcalf camp covertly
contracted prisoners at the Washington State Reformatory to conduct its
The sixty-seven-year-old Metcalf is an old-fashioned sort, as seen in
his views on curbing teen pregnancies. As he told interviewers from
Republican Beat-- a fictitious youth magazine dreamed up by Spy-- people
under sixteen "need to be closely chaperoned by their parents. They won't
like that, but what causes teenage pregnancies all over that we're worried
about is unchaperoned kids. Period."
Despite his lack of brain power, the courtly Metcalf is popular in
Congress, where he is seen as a well-meaning simpleton. "Jack wants to do
the right thing," says one House staffer. "He just doesn't have a clue as
to what the right thing is."
No. 6 - Representative J.D. Hayworth - Arizona (1994)
A former TV sportscaster and football player, Hayworth, like Gerald
Ford, appears to have forgotten his helmet one too many times. At a
recent convention of People for the West!, a group linked to the Wise Use
movement, Hayworth said that logging was a particularly beneficial activity
because forests are a fire hazard.
Hayworth's entire political philosophy can be boiled down to "Big
government, bad; less government, good." The Arizona Republic has said that
"substance has never been a strong suit of Hayworth's (even by sportscasting
standards)," and that he even has "to read his cliches from a script."
Hayworth's major activity since coming to Washington-- and one that
invariably sets off waves of anguished head-slapping on the floor-- is his
daily one-minute statement. His attempts at humor elicit groans, as when
he suggested to the opposition party that it "lure Freddy Krueger as the
new liberal Democrat spokesman" and "set up a new political-action
committee, the 'Whine Producers.' "
Though decidedly dumb, Hayworth is also smooth and relentless. "You
can't have a real debate with Hayworth," says one Democratic staffer. "He
talks as passionately about his need to take a No. 1 as he does about the
need to cut government spending."
No. 5 - Representative John Hostettler - Indiana (1994)
Hostettler's dumb roots run deep. He's an enthusiast of Dan "Potatoe"
Quayle, who campaigned on Hostettler's behalf. And he has Quayle's penchant
for putting his foot in his mouth.
In opposing gun control to a group of high-school students, he
suggested that the Second Amendment allowed for the private ownership of
nuclear weapons as well as handguns. He alienated Jewish voters when, at
a candidates' forum he made reference to the people "who killed Jesus
Hostettler sometimes cites historical precedent in pushing the Contract
with America, though his grasp of the subject is shaky at best. He blithely
supported slashing government spending, including deep cuts in social
programs, saying in a speech on the House floor on March 16 that "American
society can and will take better care of its needy without the interference
of the federal government." To back this assertion, he referred to the
progressive era, when "local charitable agencies" looked after the poor.
(Never mind progressive-era books, like Lincoln Steffens's The Shame
of the Cities and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, that detailed the urban
misery that private charities failed to dent.) "The signature notion of
the progressive era was the demand for government regulation to ameliorate
society's injustices," says Josh Brown, a historian and media director of
Hunter College's American Society History Project, "Hostettler's got his
history all wrong."
No. 4 - Representative Frank Cremeans - Ohio (1994)
"The Greeks and the Romans were homosexuals. Their civilizations did
not stand. Did they come in contact with a social disease like AIDS? I
don't know the answer. But I wonder." This was Frank Cremeans pondering
the enigmas of history during the 1994 campaign against Democrat Ted
Strickland. Comments like this prompted the Dayton Daily News to call
Cremeans "a bad joke" whose election would constitute "a mockery of
Cremeans has continued to make bizarre statements since taking up
residence in the Capitol. He once declared his opposition to sex before
marriage, saying that "marriage is a very sanctimonious commitment." In an
interview with a radio station in Marietta, Ohio, during which he discussed
Congress's first 100 days under Newt Gingrich, Cremeans excitedly declared
to the show's host, "Just think about it, Mike, we're advancing backwards!"
Cremeans might have ranked lower here but, unlike some of his
competitors, he is smart enough to know he's dumb. He wisely refuses
to answer any substantive questions from the press or public, referring all
such inquiries to his chief of staff, Barry Bennett, a prominent Ohio
Republican who is viewed in Washington as Cremeans's babysitter-- "His
handlers can tell him anything and he'll simply repeat it over and over,"
says one committee staffer familiar with Cremeans. "He takes direction well
but when he tries to think on his feet he quickly gets into trouble."
No. 3 - Senator Larry Pressler - South Dakota (1978)
Most recently noted for his attacks on public broadcasting,
Pressler, the only Senator to make the list, is considered to be a
hopeless nitwit by virtually all of his colleagues. Ted Kennedy once asked
a former Senatorial colleague of Pressler, "Has he had a lobotomy?" South
Dakota's other senator, Thomas Daschle, said of Pressler, "A Senate seat is
a terrible thing to waste."
Pressler has had repeated difficulties with closets. On one occasion
he fell asleep in one and arrived late to an important hearing. In
another incident he rose from a meeting with colleagues in the Commerce
Committee and mistook a closet door for the exit. He realized his mistake
but apparently thought the best strategy would be to wait to emerge until
everyone else left the room, a tactic that failed when his companions
decided to wait him out.
Pressler has sponsored virtually no important legislation during his
two decades in Washington, a fact he seeks to obscure by issuing
frequent press releases touting his meager achievements. One example: "New
York Times Carries Pressler Drought Letter."
Parliamentary procedure has never been one of Pressler's strong points.
During the recent mark-up of the Omnibus Telecommunications Bill, lobbyists
assisting the proceedings on TV from a Commerce Committee anteroom roared
with laughter as Chairman Pressler mangled the hearings. To keep him from
participating in committee affairs, Republican staffers distract Pressler
with a constant stream of unimportant memos.
No. 2 - Representative Helen Chenoweth - Idaho (1994)
Chenoweth-- an ultraconservative who prefers to be called Congressman--
is a close political and philosophical ally of the loonier sectors of the
militia movement. Earlier this year she claimed that federal agents
enforcing the Endangered Species Act were landing black helicopters on
ranchers' properties in western states.
On the campaign trail last year, Chenoweth held fundraisers where she
sold baked Sockeye Salmon, an endangered species. Asked if she believed
the Sockeye were truly threatened, she said, "How can I, when you can go in
and you can buy a can of salmon off the shelf in Albertson's?" According
to Chenoweth, "It's the white Anglo-Saxon male that's endangered today."
To one group of scientists who testified before the resources
committee, Chenoweth said, "I want to thank you for all being here and
I condemn the panel." At a field hearing on the Endangered Species Act in
New Bern, North Carolina, she apologized to a witness, saying, "I didn't
understand everything you said. You all talk so funny down here." On the
House floor, she once protested, "Excuse me, but can someone please explain
what an ecosystem is?"
Chenoweth blindly attacks any proposal emanating from the White House.
She once arrived badly late to an energy subcommittee hearing, and quickly
began attacking Administration officials who were testifying about a
proposed bill that she opposed. The acting chair, John Doolittle of
California, finally cut Chenoweth off to inform her that the officials
shared her position.
No. 1 - Representative Jon Christensen - Nebraska (1994)
Unquestionably the dumbest man to serve in the 104th Congress,
Christensen rails against the "liberal elite," whom he claims is out of
touch with the daily struggles of common folk. Christensen himself has no
achievements to speak of, and, prior to his election, lived off the interest
income of his wife, Meredith, who springs from a rich Texas clan.
After graduating from law school, Christensen twice failed the Nebraska
bar exam, finally squeaking through on his third attempt. No law firm would
hire him (except for clerking duties), so Christensen was forced to sell
insurance. He supplemented his income by peddling lawn fertilizer out of
his garage. In a brazen display of resume inflation, Christensen now
describes his past positions as "Insurance Marketing Director" and
"Fertilizer Holding Company Executive."
During the 1994 campaign, Christensen held a question-and-answer
session at Omaha's Westside High School. Apparently fearful that their man
would wither under pressure, Christensen's aides prepared questions in
advance and handed them out to students who were volunteers for his
campaign, telling them to clutch their pens in their hand so the candidate
would know who to call on. Other students learned of the fix, and foiled
Christensen's plot by holding pens in their hands when asking questions.
"If he can't stand up to a roomful of seventeen-year-olds, how is he going
to stand up to the U.S. Congress?" Westside senior Joey Hornstein asked the
During a radio interview in Nebraska, Christensen vigorously attacked
welfare recipients, saying he favored cutting all government "hand-outs and
subsidies" to "eliminate people's reliance on government." When the host
pointed out that Christensen had outstanding student loans of between
$30,000 and $100,000, the Congressman feebly replied, "Well, I wouldn't have
been able to go to school if I didn't have a student loan."
In another staggering display of imbecility, Christensen once called
a press conference to announce his personal deficit-reduction plan, which
called for cuts in government spending of $1.5 trillion. When informed by
a reporter that $1.5 trillion was the entire budget, a bewildered
Christensen hastily changed topics.
© 1995 Peter Langston