Two springs ago, former Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) strolled through the Senate corridors with his daughter on “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.” The senator famously warned his daughter “Don’t touch anything in here. It’s very dirty.”
Everyone knows that Congressional politics is a dirty business. But it’s likely Sununu would feel more comfortable about letting his daughter roam the marble Capitol hallways lately. In just the past week, more than a dozen Simoniz “Free Touch” soap dispensers popped up around the Capitol complex. In front of Senate elevators. Outside House restaurants. Near the Senate subway station.
“Please sanitize your hands,” implores a sign on the brown, upright contraptions. They vaguely resemble bubblegum machines or overgrown Pez dispensers, sans the heads of Donald Duck or Batman.
Place your hand underneath the machine and sensors trigger a mechanical whirring sound, discharging a glop of soap into your palm.
An online ad for the machines promotes them as “great for waiting areas, lobbies, workplace and retail environments. Show your customers and employees you care.”
The machines may be a bit late. I suppose if Congress really cared (am I customer?), they would have wheeled them out a few years ago and stationed them outside the offices of convicted former Reps. Bob Ney (R-OH) and Duke Cunningham (R-CA). Maybe former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). Or perhaps even former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ), awaiting trial next month on 34 counts of corruption.
It’s unclear if FBI agents brought along one of the sanitizers before they threatened to break down the door to the office of former Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) during a legendary 2006 raid in the Rayburn House Office Building. Jefferson’s trial for alleged influence peddling is scheduled to start in two weeks.
Of course, the sleazy side of politics isn’t what prompted the arrival of the machines.
Matt Guilfoyle, a spokesman for the Architect of the Capitol, says his office introduced them “in anticipation of swine flu.” And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters recently that as a mother and a grandmother, she was “a big wash your hands person.”
“Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” Pelosi instructed the press corps.
Swine flu is still out there. But the threat’s subsided. And Guilfoyle doesn’t know if the machines will remain a permanent fixture or could disappear. At one point, the brisk pace of the flu outbreak made me wonder if Kleenex could become the new duct tape. But interestingly, concerns about swine flu definitely diminished after the Obama Administration started referring to the strain of influenza by its more sterile, epidemiological name: H1N1.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declared that it’s not food-borne. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano repeatedly called it H1N1 at a press briefing. And the House Agriculture Committee issued a memo to Democratic press secretaries imploring them to “refrain from using ‘swine flu’ to refer to the outbreak.” The memo also counseled against the use of “pig graphics.” The committee said this indulgence “would be extremely helpful as the U.S. tries to maintain international trade and consumer confidence in our nation’s swine industry.”
Perhaps there’s medicinal value in strong political message management.
But rebranding swine flu in the press as H1N1 made me wonder if Congress could wipe out all of its swine-related references, too. After all, lawmakers face no greater stigma than pork barrel spending and concerns over earmarks.
“Pork” is toxic a toxic word on Capitol Hill. Start substituting H1N1 for swine-related political references and the problems could disappear.
I can just hear Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) railing on the floor about all of the H1N1 in an appropriations bill.
Citizens Against Government Waste will no longer criticize earmarks in the Congressional Pig Book. Look instead for the Congressional H1N1 Book.
CBS News will call Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) the “King of H1N1.”
Lawmakers facing legal jeopardy will now declare their innocence by claiming that any good prosecutor could indict an H1N1 sandwich.
There would be Biblical implications as well.
Genesis 6:10 will now state that “Noah begat three sons: Shem, H1N1 and Japheth.”
There are consequences for British soccer, too. Don’t be surprised to read that Arsenal defeated West H1N1 by a score of 3-2. West H1N1 faces Liverpool next.
Bo and Luke Duke will now tangle with Boss H1N1.
Even Dr. Sues could be in trouble. Poor Sam-I-am will now hector people to try Green Eggs and H1N1.
Congress has long sought ways to eliminate pork. And substituting H1N1 for pork-related terms could be the silver bullet. After all, lawmakers rename things all the time. Post offices. Aircraft carriers. French fries.
It reminds me of something a lobbyist told me a few years ago. “The day Congress eliminates pork, pigs will fly.”
Or in this case, H1N1.
- Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He’s won an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.