How many Americans were actually paying attention when the Senate debated the filibuster around the clock?
Not too many, it appears.
A majority, 61 percent of Americans, could not define or describe a "filibuster" in their own words, finds a new nationwide survey of 1,000 adults by the Washington-based Polling Company.
And if you think that's bad, Americans' knowledge of the filibuster exceeds their ability to name at least one member - either by name or department - of President Bush's Cabinet.
Our favorite findings, however: 4 percent of Americans polled identified filibuster as a medical procedure, 2 percent said it was a sports team, another 2 percent said it was a household appliance, 1 percent said it was a breed of horse, and 1 percent said it was a type of sandwich.
Speaking of the Polling Company, that was its president and CEO Kellyanne Conway, one of the most quoted pollsters on the national scene (she was crowned the most accurate predictor of the 2004 elections), celebrating her firm's 10th anniversary last evening at Sesto Senso in Washington.
Apart from political polling and focus groups, Conway - who, we have it on good authority, was New Jersey's Blueberry Princess before attending Trinity College, Oxford University and George Washington University Law Center - provides research and analysis, strategic counsel and crisis management to clients like Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (Heidi Diamond, president of Martha Stewart television, was on Sesto Senso's guest list the other evening), Microsoft Corp., Philip Morris, ABC News, American Express and Major League Baseball.
"Extremely humbling. It's been a privilege to work with such a diverse portfolio of clients," said Conway, who was surrounded by her husband, George Conway, and the couple's 7-month-old twins, George Jr. and Claudia.
In lieu of parting gifts ("We figure you have enough mugs, pens and paperweights," Mrs. Conway said), the pollster provided on behalf of her guests a financial grant to an aspiring women's business owner, as well as a spa certificate "to a stay-at-home mom who made a different career choice."
And Martha Stewart fans take note: Her new daytime TV endeavor will premiere in September in more than 90 percent of the country.
Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy will participate in a special Capitol Hill screening next Tuesday of "30 Days," a new television documentary by Morgan Spurlock, otherwise known as the guy who spent 30 days eating nothing but McDonald's food and lived to tell about it in the film "Super Size Me."
In his latest documentary, Spurlock and his fiancee, Alex, spend a month trying to live on the minimum wage in Columbus, Ohio, where they apparently struggle to find jobs and affordable housing. (Could they even afford to eat at McDonald's?)
"Just as 'Super Size Me' looked at obesity and nutritional ignorance in this country, the first installment of '30 Days' examines the working poor and their financial strains in the U.S.," says the Center for American Progress, whose president and CEO is John Podesta, chief of staff to President Clinton from 1998 to 2001.
At the screening's conclusion, Podesta will moderate a discussion attended by Spurlock and Mr. Kennedy, an advocate for raising the minimum wage.
The Department of Labor has set the federal minimum wage at $5.15 per hour, although many states have minimum wage laws that are higher. (If employees are subject to both the state and federal minimum wage, they are entitled to the higher of the two minimum wages.)
Ohio, where Mr. Spurlock sought employment, is one of only two states with minimum wage rates lower than the federal rate, the other being Kansas, which might explain why he chose the state for filming. Had he chosen to stay home and look for work in California, he would have found the state's minimum wage is higher than the federal rate.
DOG DAYS ALREADY
Suffice it to say, the recent Oval Office meeting between President Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan left the White House press pool uninspired.
"The highlight for the pool was a brief visit from Miss Beasley (sic), who trotted into the West Wing ... to show off her summer cut," read the official White House pool report.
Miss Beazley, a Scottish Terrier, arrived at the White House on Jan. 6, 2005, a birthday present from President Bush to first lady Laura Bush.
"Wanted to let you know that the second edition of our book, 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to American Government,' hit the bookshelves this week. Considering we are still somewhat in shock that the publishers ever bought the idea in the first place, we are pretty excited."
- Author Mary Shaffrey, of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal's Washington bureau, and a former reporter for The Washington Times, in a note Wednesday to The Beltway Beat.
GINGRICH ON GARRISON
Indianapolis-based radio talk-show host Greg Garrison brought his popular show to Capitol Hill this week (the lawyer got into the broadcast business after his successful prosecution of boxer Mike Tyson on rape charges in 1992), and preceding this columnist as one guest Wednesday was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Yours truly decided to pull out my pen and paper when Garrison began to grill Gingrich about his unusual alliance in recent weeks with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, on proposed health care legislation.
But before we recall that worthwhile exchange, the one-time Republican leader also was asked to preview the 2008 presidential election, as well as to provide his take on the latest rift in the Republican Party, compliments of Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Regarding the latter, and an unprecedented filibuster deal Mr. McCain helped orchestrate with Democrats, Gingrich didn't mince his words.
"I'm very concerned about McCain pulling the rug out from under President Bush," he said, adding that to label it "mutiny" would be "insulting to the word 'mutiny.' "
Brushing aside whether he is contemplating a run for the White House in 2008, Gingrich did rattle off several competent contenders for his party's nomination, starting in order with Virginia Sen. George Allen; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee; Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; McCain; former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani; Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback; and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel.
"Unless," he quickly added, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or Vice President Dick Cheney "decide to run. Otherwise, it's a wide-open race."
Finally, with regard to his cozying up with Clinton ("She's like shaking hands with a rattlesnake," Garrison observed) to promote legislation to improve medical record-keeping and thus avoid deadly mistakes, Gingrich assured Garrison's listeners that his only goal - and Clinton's, no doubt - is to save lives.
"I'm sure that every liberal is warning Clinton about standing on the same platform as Newt Gingrich, just as every conservative is warning me about standing on the same platform as Mrs. Clinton," he said. "But if we can save 20, 30, 40,000 American lives per year in this country, isn't it worth it?"
BEWARE OF DOGS
U.S. Air Force uniforms - you either like them or you don't.
That made our dinner conversation this week with TV talking warhead Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defense under former President George Bush, all the more intriguing.
Babbin, for background, served in the Air Force from 1973 to 1977, stationed first at McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, Calif., before his transfer to Washington.
"In Sacramento," he recalled, "they had many self-service post office kiosks where you could buy stamps, weigh packages and so forth. One afternoon, on the way home from the base, I stopped at one near my apartment.
"Ahead of me in line, a little old lady was fussing and punching the buttons on a stamp dispenser. Increasingly irate, she turned away to leave, spotted me in my USAF summer uniform - then the one with an open-collared blue shirt and blue chino pants - and started yelling at me about when the heck we were going to fix those darn machines?
"Doing my best not to shout with laughter, I grabbed one side of my collar, thumbed my captain's bars at her, and said, 'Lady, Air Force, not post office.'"
The mistaken identity didn't stop there.
"About two years later, living in an Arlington neighborhood with many young families, I was often greeted on my walk back from the bus stop by some kid shouting, 'Mom, mom! Here comes the mailman!'"
The military officer's commute to work wasn't any easier.
"The topper was when the bus driver asked me one morning to buy him some uniform pants at the base exchange because we wore the same ones. I declined."
All that said, we won't forget the interview we had in 1993 with then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak, on the heels of the Air Force issuing a new uniform.
"The new service dress uniform is a clean, streamlined design," beamed McPeak, adding that before it passed muster, the uniform underwent a wear test (more than 700 Air Force officers participated) to see how officers felt about the new design, three different fabrics, fit and comfort - and, most important, individuality.