The tidy cots, the earnest speeches, the candlelight vigil. After staging a 21-hour debate over the war in Iraq on Tuesday night, Sen. Harry Reid pined for drama, publicity and pundit chatter. Did the Nevada Democrat's dream of buzz and popular appeal come true?
Well, not exactly.
"It was a smoke screen. Senators talk all night of ending the war and bringing our troops home, and they still give Bush billions," peace activist Cindy Sheehan said yesterday.
"This was a buzzless venture if I ever saw one," writer Lucianne Goldberg said. "I think Reid just made people mad."
Her well-traveled blog (www.lucianne.com) featured a photo of the bespectacled lawmaker in full filibuster mode, sporting the caption: "Harry Reid gets word his nurse will not let him stay up all night."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Goldberg had her eye on public approval numbers.
"There's a new Reuters/Zogby poll out showing President Bush up to 34 percent and Congress at 14 percent," she said. "Maybe it's beginning to turn around. The race is to the tortoise."
Indeed, the national survey of 1,012 likely voters, taken last Thursday through Saturday, revealed that Mr. Bush's approval rating was up four points since March, while the Democrat-controlled Congress garnered its worst ratings in Zogby's history.
Gleeful press reports made sport of it all yesterday. Mr. Reid's debate was called a slumber party, a publicity stunt and an all-nighter complete with a "panty raid," among other things.
Though Mr. Reid took the risk of "seeming sophomoric," he did generate coverage for better or worse, said Ron Elving, political director of National Public Radio.
"Pulling an all-nighter? What would be next for the Senate, a toga party? The jokes about slumber parties and panty raids were inevitable, and they came close to overshadowing the grave issue at hand," Mr. Elving said. "But if much of the media attention was derisive, all of it served Reid's larger purpose, which was to foster media attention."
It was not particularly compelling viewing, though. C-SPAN 2 dutifully offered live coverage of the debate from start to finish, with the cable and broadcast networks left to snip the many hours into shape in the aftermath.
"This was basically an opportunity for the networks to run a bunch of Democratic sound bites once the big night was over. It was not too heroic, though. The coverage did not lend the impression that Harry Reid was making massive progress," said Tim Graham of the Media Research Center.
"Congress can be deadly dull, so broadcasters were quite taken by the slumber-party theme," Mr. Graham added. "But one thing is for sure: This is not a stunt that Harry Reid can pull repeatedly."
Some found the tactic downright alarming.
"This defense bill is not a game. The Senate is not a theater for political dramas and our national security must not be held hostage to Democrats' desire to please their far left antiwar constituency," said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl of Arizona, who argued that the maneuver had backfired.
"After almost 24 hours of debate demanded by Democrats, we are actually further away from passing the defense bill than we were when we started. This is not merely an unproductive Congress; it is a dysfunctional Congress," Mr. Kyl said. "Democrats have taken precious time that could have been used to advance legislation and spent it to make a political point."