Eight Reasons Why Congress Offers the Worst Job in America

Categories: Congress, Longform

4. You probably suck at parenting.

The crushing schedule leaves you primed for charges of familial abandonment. Most legislators get just one day a week with the spouse and kids.

When people ask Tancredo if they should run for office, he answers with a simple question: "I say, 'Well, do you like your family?'"

He relates the tale of a fellow congressman, a father of five whose work left little time for home. One day the man's five-year-old found a videotape of Dad speaking and plugged it into the VCR. The boy's younger brother had seen so little of his father that he tried to hug his image on TV.

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Connie Morella
Connie Morella had it easier than most -- if it's possible to describe a mother of nine's life as "easy." When her sister died of cancer, the Republican congresswoman and her husband -- who already had three children -- adopted her sister's six kids. But at least she represented nearby Maryland.

She recalls hustling to PTA meetings and back-to-school nights, where her kids were forced to compete with constituents for her attention. It left her with a lingering sense of guilt. "Oh, yes," she says. "Children had to sacrifice to be in political families."

Much worse is the ache in parents who represent distant states. In the old days, legislators could keep their families intact by moving them to D.C. But as disgust for Congress grew, so began an arms race to demonstrate who could be less Washington than the next guy.

Think of it as a weird form of one-upmanship for people with deficit self-awareness. If you're a member of Congress, after all, you're the very embodiment of Washington.

Still, most now boast of keeping their families back home. Others make public spectacles of sleeping in their offices. Look! I'm so not D.C., I don't even have an electric bill here!

"Members will get criticized if they move their families to Washington, because they'll be seen as out of touch with the district," says Martin Frost, a former Democratic congressman from Texas. Occupationally speaking, this can be a lethal accusation.

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Dick Lugar in 2006.
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 mic 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."


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