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August 02, 2006

Why Being A Congressman Would Suck

When I was younger, I occasionally entertained thoughts of running for office. A couple campaign gigs later and I realized there was possibly no job more unpleasant, disorienting, or disruptive than representative. Michelle Cottle, in an interesting article about the strain political life puts on marriages, explains why:

In the litany of travails that contribute to congressional divorce, none is more frequently cited than a spouse's not moving to Washington with her husband. This decision to remain behind in the home district may be driven by any number of reasons: the desire not to uproot children, a spouse's unwillingness to sideline her own career, the prohibitive costs of living in D.C. But, as often as not, the driving force is the lawmaker's fear of having political opponents tar him as a Beltway denizen out of touch with his constituents. Especially on the House side, where members stand for reelection every two years, there is such pressure to keep one's life rooted in the district that the legislative calendar has been compressed so that most business is conducted from Tuesday to Thursday, allowing members to spend the rest of the week back home. In theory, this schedule provides members more time to spend with their families. In practice, it's a domestic disaster, says American Enterprise Institute scholar/superpundit Norm Ornstein. "Having the lawmaker in Washington all week creates a tremendous pent-up demand among the family members," he says. "Then you get home Thursday evening or Friday, and they're all going to be anticipating that, now, it's daddy time. But then you say hello and goodbye and go out to campaign, and you wind up missing them all weekend, too."

While this practice has a long history, Ornstein blames the 1994 Republican Revolution for accelerating the trend. "It was almost a sea change," he asserts. "The new Republicans were coming in to take over Washington not because they wanted to be members of Congress, but because they needed to heal the country from this horrible virus. They didn't want to stay too long, or they might catch it. They certainly didn't want to infect their families with it." The pressure mounted, says Ornstein, to the point that lawmakers in both parties now are automatically expected to keep their bases of operations in their districts.

Out on their own in Washington, lawmakers get increasingly wrapped up in their new lives--and their new hotshot status--leaving their wives behind both physically and emotionally. Eventually, notes Todd, "wives start to think, 'My God, he's changed.'" The next thing you know, Congressman X is feeling misunderstood and underappreciated by the missus, even as droves of attractive, politically savvy, ingratiating young women thrill to his every word at committee meetings and Hill receptions. One Hill reporter, echoing the views of many, put it succinctly: "The life of a member of Congress is set up for infidelity in a way that I can't think of for any other profession--aside from being a rock star."

August 2, 2006 | Permalink

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I realize being in Congress has its downsides, but this business is awfully wrongheaded:

Out on their own in Washington, lawmakers get increasingly wrapped up in their new lives--and their new hotshot status--leaving their wives behind both physically and emotionally. Eventually, notes Todd, "wives start to think, 'My God, he's changed.'" The next thing you know, Congressman X is feeling misunderstood and underappreciated by the missus, even as droves of attractive, politically savvy, ingratiating young women thrill to his every word at committee meetings and Hill receptions. One Hill reporter, echoing the views of many, put it succinctly: "The life of a member of Congress is set up for infidelity in a way that I can't think of for any other profession--aside from being a rock star."


Or, more succintly, the reason Congressmen have affairs is ... their wives don't understand how hard their job is and their surrounded by a bunch of tempting young ladies. It's all the woman's fault!

Feh.

I'm curious if the divorce rate among congressmen is higher or lower than the public as a whole. I'd bet it's lower.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Aug 2, 2006 11:00:45 AM

Or, more succintly, the reason Congressmen have affairs is ... their wives don't understand how hard their job is and their surrounded by a bunch of tempting young ladies. It's all the woman's fault!

The article makes it sound like the women in question are a bunch of giggling coeds, when (based on the congressional remarriages of which I'm aware) they're often industry lobbyists who are trying to get the Congressmen to give them a favor. The dynamic there is particularly nasty -- it's not starstruck hero worship, but rather a quasi-business relationship with more than a whiff of quid pro quo.

Posted by: paperwight | Aug 2, 2006 11:34:29 AM

"The life of a member of Congress is set up for infidelity in a way that I can't think of for any other profession--aside from being a rock star."

That's a real failure of imagination. Old NBA joke: "What's the hardest thing about leaving your family for a road trip? Not smiling."

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 2, 2006 11:38:55 AM

"The article makes it sound like the women in question are a bunch of giggling coeds, when (based on the congressional remarriages of which I'm aware) they're often industry lobbyists who are trying to get the Congressmen to give them a favor."

Which is to say that as the congressman comes to focus more and more on politics, his work takes him further from his family and closer to other people who - shock! horror! - focus on politics.

"Or, more succintly, the reason Congressmen have affairs is ... their wives don't understand how hard their job is and their surrounded by a bunch of tempting young ladies. It's all the woman's fault!"

Think that's overstating the point a bit. It's that their job requires them to be away from their family a lot, focusing on things that their family isn't necessarily very invested in. Long commutes are stressful for anybod,y particularly when they cross time zones. This doesn't give people a free pass to cheat - but how many people do you know who left their high school or college sweetheart for someone who shares their interests as an adult? Same dynamic here.

I realize that our congressmen are ovewhelmingly male, but female representatives are no longer automatically remarkable - these pressures are just as present for them (moreso, when you consider how few men are willing to sacrifice their career for their wife) as for men. Do congresswomen get divorced and remarried to politicos in a similar fashion?

Posted by: Kylroy | Aug 2, 2006 11:45:01 AM

The local district politics referred to consists of a huge number of hours on the phone calling potential contributors for campaign contributions. The actual full-time job of a congressperson is money raising, and the effect of that task has significant impact on family relations.

Having a 'quota' (from the campaign manager) of telephone calls to made daily is surely disruptive of those hours when the congressperson is 'at home'.

The endless rounds of campaign fundraising events in the district also means that the family events (meals together, recreation, etc.) are almost never-happen events.

Publicly financed campaigns are not a cure-all, but surely would go a long way towards restoring a real family life to our elected representatives. So why don't we have that? The large contributors today are quite happy to have congresspeople as hostages to their donations - they get the congresspersons attention (and needless to say, votes).

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 2, 2006 12:03:10 PM

No kidding. Jim reminds the other really crappy part about being a Congressman. What's more, House members with little seniority don't have much of a chance to shape legislation. You really have to enjoy the fun parts; the occasional speech, constituent service, meeting voters, etc.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Aug 2, 2006 12:08:52 PM

This is why my instinct is to distrust (senior) politicians until they give me a reason to trust them. Anyone willing to make the social sacrifices and to do the political manoeuvring needed to get anywhere in national politics is probably a bit weird.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Aug 2, 2006 12:59:34 PM

They have no one to blame but themselves. Come on people, we're not living in the 70's. Buy them each a Macbook and they could conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and vote, all without leaving their district office.

Aside from State of the Union speeches and perhaps intelligence briefings, there'd be no reason for a Members to go to DC (a local federal judge could swear them in). Of course the downside is they're all stuck in their Loserville hometown (how many retired Members actually go home instead of sticking around DC to lobby?) and they can't live like a rock stars.

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