Eight Reasons Why Congress Offers the Worst Job in America

Welcome to a life of mooching, meetings and trying not to get caught making out with your aides.

Take Republican Richard Lugar, who arrived in the Senate from Indiana in 1977. At the time, it was standard practice to move to D.C. Over the next 36 years, Lugar became one of the more eminent members of Congress. Until the last election, that is, when it was revealed that he'd sold his Indianapolis home three decades earlier.

The senator was soon attacked with headlines like this one, from the Daily Caller: "Richard Lugar doesn't live here anymore." His stock plunged so far he was beat in the GOP primary by a guy who believes pregnancy from rape is "something God intended to happen."

3. You're only one slip away from national ridicule.

The wonderful thing about being a normal human being: Your every misstep is pleasantly shrouded by your own obscurity. Not so in Congress.

"These people are running from appearance to appearance, and everything they do has the potential for catastrophe," notes one staffer. "All they have to do is slip off a stage or have a mike catch them in a swear word."

And when that happens, enemy yes-men will be lying in wait, ready to denounce your very soul with prefabricated acrimony and grave demands for apologies.

"We're perched on the ledge, hoping and hoping they'll say something outrageous," says the staffer. "And then it's like, 'Yes!' But then we have to pretend we're outraged. It's theater."

Every conversation, no matter how small, brings the possibility of nationwide derision, YouTube infamy and a featured spot in late-night monologues.

"You think you're sitting there talking frankly, and somebody's taping you on their cell phone," says Simpson. "And all they're waiting for is a gaffe. You're being followed all day — not for the purpose of what you're saying, but for that stupid little statement you make when you haven't slept but three hours the night before."

Even a trip to the store is cause for caution. Morella recalls thinking twice before she ever stepped out the door. "I would be careful, even when I went to the market, about what I was wearing. I had people contact me who didn't like my hair or my earrings. I had people say I was seen shopping for dresses in the sale aisle."

2. You will be 17 again — and not in a good way.

Politicians like to describe their profession as "war." It conjures a portrait of courage, gallantry and hand-to-hand combat — preferably featuring nicely oiled pectoral muscles. Which means it's a wholly unsuitable metaphor. When you fight by insulting people on TV, you're more Joan Rivers than George Patton.

After all, the dignified statesman does not stoop to fisticuffs. This is seen as inelegant — not to mention scary. So you assault your foes with innuendo, misinformation, rumor and, of course, Photoshop.

In other words, it's just like high school.

In the last election, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce presumably hired the cast of Mean Girls to attack Sherrod Brown. In one ad, his photo was doctored with a five-o'clock shadow to make him look as if he'd just returned from a three-week bender while living under a bridge. Sherrod Brown: He doesn't even bathe.

Rumor works just as well, as West Virginia officials learned during the recent sign-up for Obamacare. Some residents resisted, having heard that it required the implanting of a chip in their bodies. This, apparently, was a deal-breaker.

You can even count on being undermined by your own party. Tancredo recalls the incessant pressure from leadership to toe the Republican line. On this job, independence is one of the graver signs, certain to leave lasting stains on your permanent record.

"The most serious threats they could muster is that you were going to ruin your career in this place," he says. "People there, that's the most enticing thing to them. I'd tell him, 'I don't want a career in this place. I don't even like this place.'"

Then there's the case of Congressman Vance McAllister (R-Louisiana). Last month, he was working late in his district office. This afforded him the opportunity to engage in a brief but festive makeout session with aide Melissa Peacock.

Problem No. 1: McAllister had appeared in campaign commercials with his wife and five children, promising to "defend our Christian way of life." (Most likely by renaming post offices after biblical greats.)

Problem No. 2: Ms. Peacock was married to someone other than Vance McAllister.

Problem No. 3: McAllister's amorous lip wrestling was caught on security tape. And leaked to a newspaper. Allegedly by someone on his own staff.

This Judas environment is to be expected. When an entire enterprise is built on avoiding accomplishment, backstabbing and palace intrigue become the sport of the realm.

DeConcini recently visited a Republican friend in Congress. "He told me how terrible it was," he says. "He said it was just awful, even in his own caucus. There's a gotcha feeling."

He then visited with a liberal Democrat. "He told me the same thing about the Democrats: 'I gotta have my way, and I gotta show that I'm tough.'"

But since everyone in Washington is busy being so not Washington, the toxicity of the job is always someone else's fault. Yes, crowing about "personal responsibility" plays before the cameras — yet only amateurs dare practice it.

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7 comments
MelADavis
MelADavis

Last time I checked, serving an elected office is not a job or a career.  It is an honor, duty, and privilege.  Perhaps this is why Congress is so broken.  

Anse
Anse

I wonder if publicly funding campaigns--getting rid of private donations entirely--might go a long way toward reforming this stuff? 

icemanu
icemanu

As a journalist who's spent more than 20 years covering politics from school boards to international summits, all I can say is this is great stuff and dead-on. One of the first things I ask newbie candidates is if they really want to spend 40 hours a week in committee meetings, another 20 gladhandling at ghastly cocktail parties and another 30 making telephone calls to raise funds. It's also among the less than five articles I can recall that made me feel a bit of sympathy for the likes of Tancredo (I can name plenty of Democrats just as awful, BTW). Not saying I'm overly sympathetic, given all the people working two jobs for low wages in abusive conditions, but it's fair to note even Congress is something of a hellish job requiring more than a cushy three-day week (and you can imagine how much worse it is for the staff).

stevek77536
stevek77536

"Every day you learned more shit about more shit," ... I suspect this should be taken literally, even if not meant that way.  With political "geniuses" like Rove doing the teaching, we end up with what we have, Congressional approval ratings in single digits.  Bile-spewing and (secretive) begging have long since replaced public service.

roguebotanist
roguebotanist

No sympathy for Tancredo or Hutchinson.  Both were around at the height of the Iraq war and were lapdog yes men/women for the GOP powers with no meaningful bills between them. They won't be missed as politicians. 

larrybradley
larrybradley

Don't have time to read the whole thing right now, so I will assume it is a joke, a tongue-in-cheek piece; otherwise, "the most terrible job in the world" sure seems to be one that most people will do anything to hang on to. You not what the REAL worst job in the world is? It is being unemployed when you are able and willing to work, but the economy has been so screwed up by those who don't bother to show up for most of their meetings (aka Congress) that people have given up. Despair over meetings when you make $174k and many thousands, if not millions, more on the side is way different from despair over joblessness. Okay, so maybe it is a tongue-in-cheek piece. If so, thanks anyway for giving me an opening to sound off.

Anse
Anse

@larrybradley I don't know. If you're really idealistic and sincerely want to do the best for your district and your country, this sounds like a pretty awful way to go about it. 

 
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