By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers.
They form a smaller, less influential group, thanks to the elections. And when Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th president, the club of remaining Republican senators might find it hard to get a restaurant reservation or tee time, no less attention for their arguments on the Senate floor. So what's the minority to do?
Get jiggy, says folksy longtime Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. "The Senate's a pretty staid place, and it needs to loosen up a little bit," he says. Grassley's idea: Use props, specifically cartoon and fairy tale characters and popular movies. "What it's all about," he says, "is to get people to pay attention. It's kind of shock therapy with a smile. It's an attempt to get people who otherwise wouldn't pay attention to what you are saying to listen."
He should know, as his sometimes goofy props have worked. Like the times he's arrived on the Senate floor with a poster from Groundhog Day. "I think the groundhog is pretty legitimate," he says. "How many times do we go over arguments over and over and over and over again?" he asks, suggesting that it's just like the movie that repeats the same day until star Bill Murray finally gets the girl. "And then there are the threats that you get from the other side," he explains, "so I've got the Big Bad Wolf blowing down the house." Sometimes it's the enlarged picture of a thermometer at his side showing the heat of threatened Democratic tax hikes.
Other favorites include Huckleberry Hound, Rip van Winkle, and Trigger, Roy Rogers's horse. He used Rip van Winkle during the presidential campaign, warning Americans that Obama's tax cut promises sounded like those made by Bill Clinton but deferred. "I wanted to use the speeches and graphics for people to wake up that maybe Obama is not going to keep his promise any more than Clinton," says Grassley.
Illustration by Joe Ciardiello for USN&WR