The Senate's blowhards and brains

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Back in the mid-1970s, Sen. William Scott, a Virginia Republican, called a press conference to deny a magazine charge that he was the dumbest member of the Senate.

Of course, calling the press conference was a really dumb idea, since it only brought attention to an otherwise obscure story. Scott was ridiculed–something all politicians dread.

Scott's victim in the previous election was Democrat William Spong, whose mother called him with sheer delight when she read the article. Spong cooled her off when he told her that that dumb guy had defeated her beloved son.

Sen. John Tunney, a California Democrat, called a press conference here on a slow news day to respond to allegations that he had been chasing snow bunnies on a skiing trip in Europe.

But the denial became bigger news, summoning the wisecrack that the son of the once great heavyweight Gene Tunney was a political lightweight. Tunney was defeated in the next election.

Chatting with reporters on Capitol Hill today, a few examples of today's dullest and brightest:

For the less than brainy, consider GOP Sens. Conrad Burns of Montana, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and Jim Bunning of Kentucky. Sen. JamesDeMint of South Carolina also draws mention.

Burns is a folksy rancher who legislates and acts like one. Sessions is the Bush administration's go-to member since he's ready to heap praise on any Republican nominee or idea sight unseen. Bunning, the Hall of Famer on the baseball diamond, may have been a brilliant pitcher, but it doesn't carry over to the Senate. DeMint is hardly a fitting successor to Democrat Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, who could have the Senate and press gallery in stitches with his sense of humor.

On the Democratic side, Sens.Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, andBlanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas are the nominees.

Akaka is Mr. Silent among the 100 since he rarely says anything on the floor or in committee – a rarity in the Cave of Winds. Nelson, a Democrat in a bright-red state, has a fine line to walk, but he does it in a clumsy way. Lincoln is a proud and good mother of twins, but she doesn't rate so high as a member of the club.

Who are the brightest?

There aren't many statesmen today who compare to giants of yesteryear such as Republicans Jacob Javits of New York, Howard Baker of Tennessee, and Clifford Case of New Jersey or Democrats Mike Mansfield of Montana, Phil Hart of Michigan, and Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.

Among today's nominees are the following Republicans: Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Olympia Snowe of Maine. For the Democrats: Chuck Schumer of New York (though he never passes up a camera), Barack Obama of Illinois, and Carl Levin of Michigan.

Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware wins the "most talkative" award with ease.

Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska is an easy winner as the meanest member –and he'd be proud of it.

And Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, is the most obnoxious for her take-no-prisoners, snarling speeches.