@PltclPrtyCrshr (No. 3)
My first job out of college was at a real estate company in Washington, DC. I graduated from one of the nation’s top undergraduate business school programs with a fancy schmancy major in real estate, yet I still knew absolutely diddly (sp.?) about real estate, real estate development and real estate finance. Something I have in common with the Donald. In business school, I learned very little about real estate. In business school, Trump learned very little about humility, tact, class and the world around him.
Since I had applied to law school, my initial foray into the real estate world resembled the 2016 Jim Webb campaign: short-lived. Did he even make it into 2016? Prior to moving out of DC to start law school, a politically-connected family friend, who knew about my interest in one day running for office, told me to go see a certain Congressman, who could provide some guidance. I dropped by one afternoon unannounced, something Congressional staffers love…
One amazing thing about Congress is that any citizen, at any time, can visit a member’s office and get a meeting with at least a staffer. The only security measures at the House and Senate office building entrances are airport x-ray machines and a few security guards. Unfortunately when government is open to everyone, it attracts some crazies. Which is why Congressional staffers are inherently skeptical of anyone who walks in unannounced. Or so I told myself.
I explained who I was to the Congressman’s deputy chief of staff and she handed me a pen and torn piece of paper to leave my contact info. Something invariably requested of visiting VIPs. She said someone would be in touch. Meaning, get out of here immediately. No one from this office will ever call you. Except maybe for a campaign contribution. Although based on your age and the way you’re dressed, I’m certain you won’t receive that call either.
So I quietly left. Then fortuitously bumped into the Congressman in the hallway on his way back from a committee meeting. I stopped and introduced myself. His response, an ebullient, “I was wondering when you were going to stop by! Come on in!” The family friend was a close friend of the Congressman. We walked right by his aide who had blown me off, whose facial expression was a nice cocktail of shock, awe and terror. Between you and me, that felt good. Like a warm bath. Do adults still take baths? The only baths I’ve taken happened during my first two weeks at graduate school because I was too lazy to walk the four blocks to the hardware store to buy shower curtain rings.
I spent about an hour with the Congressman talking about policy, politics and running for office. Two things really stuck.
The first was his advice on where I should run. I was going to law school, so I floated the idea of running from the Congressional district where the law school was located. He disagreed. “Run where you’re from.” Because it’s where you know the real local issues, it’s where the people know you and it’s the place you most care about. You will be the best representative for that place, not somewhere else.
The second was a comment he made about the House of Representatives. Verbatim, “Why do you want this job? This is the worst job in the world.” The comment really threw me, coming from a rising star in the party, whose political aspirations were well known and who had spent his entire life in and around politics.
Worst job in the world? Doesn’t sound as bad as handing out parking tickets or cleaning up a nuclear accident or valet parking cars in Key West in the middle of August. Except it probably is.
Here’s the upside.
You get to help govern and lead the United States of America. You get to try to make the country a better place. You get to help hundreds of thousands of people in your district, hundreds of millions in the United States and billions of people around the world every single day. You get to write, negotiate and vote on laws. You get to talk about public policy issues on television. You get to lead people in the direction you believe is right. You get to work in an incredibly beautiful building. You get to travel to the best and worst places on earth. You get to learn secrets that few others know. You get a decent salary ($174,000) with amazing benefits, like a free Congressional barber, a free gym, free airport parking, maybe a ride on Air Force One, two weeks off in January, President’s Day week in February, two weeks in March, a week in April, a week in May, two weeks in June, two weeks in July, the entire month of August, the entire month of October, three weeks in November and two weeks in December. That $174,000 works out to about $200/hour. You get to have sex with prostitutes (i.e. David Vitter, Republican Senator from Louisiana, who is still in office). And you get to tell people you’re a member of the House of Representatives. I actually do that sometimes. Fifth District, Kansas.
But the downside…
Your life is no longer private. You are held to a higher standard of behavior than everyone else, but you’re still human. You spend most of your time begging for money. You have to reapply for your job every two years. You have colleagues who can’t find Afghanistan on a map. You have colleagues who constantly lie to you. You have colleagues who publicly and frequently verbally desecrate you. Half the public hates you. Some of those people take that hatred out on your family. Some people pay a lot of money to lambast you on television. More than half the public thinks every word out of your mouth is bullshit. You could probably make a lot more money doing something else. And you have to travel a lot to and from your district. It’s surprising that American Samoa can even field candidates for Congress, especially because its elected member can’t even vote! (The United States has six territories that elect a non-voting delegate to the House: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (huh?), Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, DC.)
Yet election cycle after election cycle, people run. Lots of people run. Because they want to be there. They crave the upside and accept the downside. Because power is sexy. And once they get to Congress, they never want to leave. And do whatever it takes to stay. Either because of the power or because of optimism that they can accomplish something with a little more time, or both.
This Congressman was no exception. Though he was exceptional. He mesmerized me in his office with his mastery of the details of public policy, his ability to clearly communicate his positions and his genuine passion for helping make people’s lives better. He was someone who the American people could admire, a model statesman that the founding fathers had hoped would govern our country forever.
And then he resigned because of a sex scandal.
PS – I know Kansas only has four Congressional districts. Did you?