RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment
Print

Excerpt: "So here are some things I wish the voters knew about the people elected to represent them."

The United States Capitol. (photo: Val Black Russian Tourchin)
The United States Capitol. (photo: Val Black Russian Tourchin)


Confessions of a Congressman: 9 Secrets From the Inside

By Vox

06 February 15

 

am a member of Congress. I'm not going to tell you from where, or from which party. But I serve, and I am honored to serve. I serve with good people (and some less good ones), and we try to do our best.

It's a frustrating, even disillusioning job. The public pretty much hates us. Congress polls lower than Richard Nixon during Watergate, traffic jams, or the Canadian alt-rock band Nickelback. So the public knows something is wrong. But they often don't know exactly what is wrong. And sometimes, the things they think will fix Congress — like making us come home every weekend — actually break it further.

So here are some things I wish the voters knew about the people elected to represent them.

  1. Congress is not out of touch with folks back home

    Congress is only a part-time job in Washington, DC. An hour after the last vote, almost everyone is on the airplane home. Congress votes fewer than 100 days a year, spending the rest of the time back home where we pander to their constituents' short-term interests, not the long-term good of the nation. Anyone who is closer to your district than you are will replace you. Incumbents stick to their districts like Velcro.

  2. Congress listens best to money

    It is more lucrative to pander to big donors than to regular citizens. Campaigns are so expensive that the average member needs a million-dollar war chest every two years and spends 50 percent to 75 percent of their term in office raising money. Think about that. You're paying us to do a job, and we're spending that time you're paying us asking rich people and corporations to give us money so we can run ads convincing you to keep paying us to do this job. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech and corporations are people, the mega-rich have been handed free loudspeakers. Their voices, even out-of-state voices, are drowning out the desperate whispers of ordinary Americans.

  3. Almost everyone in Congress loves gerrymandering

    Without crooked districts, most members of Congress probably would not have been elected. According to the Cook Political Report, only about 90 of the 435 seats in Congress are "swing" seats that can be won by either political party. In other words, 345 seats are safe Republican or Democratic seats. Both parties like it that way. So that's what elections are like today: rather than the voters choosing us, we choose the voters. The only threat a lot of us incumbents face is in the primaries, where someone even more extreme than we are can turn out the vote among an even smaller, more self-selected group of partisans.

  4. You have no secret ballot anymore

    The only way political parties can successfully gerrymander is by knowing how you vote. Both parties have destroyed your privacy at the polling booth. Thanks to election rolls, we don't know exactly whom you voted for, but we get pretty damn close. We know exactly which primaries and general elections you have voted in, and since there are so few realistic candidates in most elections, down or up ballot, we might as well know exactly who you voted for. Marry that data with magazine subscriptions, the kind of car you drive, and all sorts of other easily available consumer information that we've figured out how to use to map your political preferences, and we can gerrymander and target subdivisions, houses — even double beds. Republicans want the male vote; Democrats the female vote.

  5. We don't have a Congress but a parliament

    Over the last several decades, party loyalty has increased to near-unanimity. If a member of Congress doesn't vote with his or her party 99 percent of the time, he's considered unreliable and excluded from party decision-making. Gone are the days when you were expected to vote your conscience and your district, the true job of a congressperson. Parliaments only work because they have a prime minister who can get things done. We have a parliament without any ability to take executive action. We should not be surprised we are gridlocked.

  6. Congressional committees are a waste of time

    With parliamentary voting, control is centralized in each party's leadership. Almost every major decision is made by the Speaker or Minority Leader, not by committees. They feel it is vital to party success to have a national "message" that is usually poll-driven, not substantive. So why develop any expertise as a committee member if your decisions will only be overridden by party leadership? Why try to get on a good committee if you have already ceded authority to your unelected, unaccountable party leaders? The result is members routinely don't show up at committee hearings, or if they do show up, it's only to ask a few questions and leave. A lot of members fight for committees that will help them raise money or get a sweet lobbying job later (more on that in a minute). The result is that the engine for informed lawmaking is broken.

  7. Congress is a stepping-stone to lobbying

    Congress is no longer a destination but a journey. Committee assignments are mainly valuable as part of the interview process for a far more lucrative job as a K Street lobbyist. You are considered naïve if you are not currying favor with wealthy corporations under your jurisdiction. It's become routine to see members of Congress drop their seat in Congress like a hot rock when a particularly lush vacancy opens up. The revolving door is spinning every day. Special interests deplete Congress of its best talent.

  8. The best people don't run for Congress

    Smart people figured this out years ago and decided to pursue careers other than running for Congress. The thought of living in a fishbowl with 30-second attack ads has made Congress repulsive to spouses and families. The idea of spending half your life begging rich people you don't know for money turns off all reasonable, self-respecting people. That, plus lower pay than a first-year graduate of a top law school, means that Congress, like most federal agencies, is not attracting the best and the brightest in America.

  9. Congress is still necessary to save America, and cynics aren't helping

    Discouragement is for wimps. We aren't going to change the Constitution, so we need to make the system we have work. We are still, despite our shortcomings, the most successful experiment in self-government in history. Our greatest strength is our ability to bounce back from mistakes like we are making today. Get over your nostalgia: Congress has never been more than a sausage factory. The point here isn't to make us something we're not. The point is to get us to make sausage again. But for that to happen, the people have to rise up and demand better.

e-max.it: your social media marketing partner
 

Comments   

A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

 
+41 # tedrey 2015-02-06 11:06
A lovely recap of what we all suspected.

Is it also true, VOX, that 90% of the intelligence and knowledge about the pertinent areas of legislation is possessed by the staffers and not by the Congressmen themselves?
 
 
+18 # Inspired Citizen 2015-02-06 18:00
WE need a revolution. The system is fixed, and ONLY a constitutional amendment or two or three can restore the sausage making where the results (passed laws) are for the people and not the corporate 1%.
 
 
+34 # hjsteed 2015-02-06 11:51
Did & is Congress violating its oath of office to uphold the US Constitution with the 911 Patriot & subsequent similar Acts to trash the Constitution for Military Rule & Corporate Rule since then?

Are Congressional Members who signed those Acts - complicit for war crimes committed since then?
 
 
+15 # randi1randi1@yahoo.com 2015-02-06 11:56
If we are the most successful experiment in self-government in history, maybe we should go back to a monarchy, someone we can overthrow or keep in a state of fear if they get too independent. And we don't bounce back from mistakes; we just find some other way to employ the same strategies without getting caught.

We do need to change the Constitution. As his soliloquy here suggests, it's not working because it's been co-opted by the wealthy, or left impotent by lawmakers who ignore it altogether or establish laws to prevent its implementation. This guy isn't telling us anything new, just doing his bit to maintain the status quo so he can keep his job until he can get something more lucrative.
 
 
+21 # fredboy 2015-02-06 11:56
#8 is an absolute. Once encouraged to run for Congress from Virginia, but as we explored we realized it was at best a sea of nasty. And that was Virginia. God only knows what representing the real shit states must be like.
 
 
+13 # Jayceecool 2015-02-06 12:26
Thank you for the "insider" comments; however, you need to study some basic political science. A parliamentary form of government is distinguished by the fact that the majority party (or coalition) chooses the executive (usually a prime minister), for more direct control of government policy. And, by the way, the venality of members of Congress has created the cynicism, not the other way around...
 
 
+22 # reiverpacific 2015-02-06 12:57
Quoting Jayceecool:
Thank you for the "insider" comments; however, you need to study some basic political science. A parliamentary form of government is distinguished by the fact that the majority party (or coalition) chooses the executive (usually a prime minister), for more direct control of government policy. And, by the way, the venality of members of Congress has created the cynicism, not the other way around...


Thanks for that (as a Brit').
Also, other truly Democratic -or more nearly so- have very short electoral seasons; in the UK, it's a couple of months with all qualifying parties receiving equal air time and funding (Any looney party can run by making a predetermined deposit, which they lose if they don't receive enough votes to qualify for serous candidacy), then ± two months and it's over, allowing them the rest of their time in office to actually work on issues of their constituencies.
The US electoral season almost begins the day after inauguration and continues ad-nauseum, playing directly into the hands of the hugely wealthy and the owner-media, who can afford to propagandize and hypnotize a somnambulist citizenry addicted to sensationalism and personality star-power featuring the loudest shouters, no matter how phony ("Compassionate Conservatism"), with the major corporate media sending as it is out to their immense profit!
It's an auction-block like a former slave market, innit!?
 
 
+21 # Pufferly 2015-02-06 12:33
It's not so much that power corrupts,
although it can. It's more likely that corrupt people seek power, run for office, and then use it to their own personal ends.
 
 
+17 # reiverpacific 2015-02-06 12:46
"People who want to be politicians should be immediately banned from becoming one!"
Billy Connoly, Scotland's George Carlin.
 
 
+3 # jpmarat 2015-02-06 13:05
Given 1-8, #9 sounds incredibly STUPID. Define "rise up." ABSOLUTELY No Help at all in this dimwit "proposal." Revolving Doors for Revolving Hors MUST be blocked, assertively. Elect "extremists" the big firms won't hire?
 
 
0 # jpmarat 2015-02-06 13:05
Given 1-8, #9 sounds incredibly STUPID. Define "rise up." ABSOLUTELY No Help at all in this dimwit "proposal." Revolving Doors for Revolving Hors MUST be blocked, assertively. Elect "extremists" the big firms won't hire?
 
 
+5 # Freedom13 2015-02-06 13:12
Wouldn't it be nice if a) parties were eliminated and b) intelligent people could vote their conscience and c) stay in office because they knew they were doing good work?
 
 
+32 # PABLO DIABLO 2015-02-06 13:35
The dysfunctional Congress is merely a front for Corporate rule. Get the neocons and their Corporate sponsors out of "our" government.
 
 
+13 # Archie1954 2015-02-06 13:36
"The most successful experiment in self governing in history"? In your dreams! What a crock. the US isn't even a real democracy, it doesn't reflect the wishes of the constituents, it is as corrupt as He** and it is as useless as a teat on a bull! Any more questions about "success"? Maybe if you acknowledged the truth you would be able to do something about it, but at this juncture your imaginary exceptionalism won't let you!
 
 
+9 # reiverpacific 2015-02-06 14:20
Quoting Archie1954:
"The most successful experiment in self governing in history"? In your dreams! What a crock. the US isn't even a real democracy, it doesn't reflect the wishes of the constituents, it is as corrupt as He** and it is as useless as a teat on a bull! Any more questions about "success"? Maybe if you acknowledged the truth you would be able to do something about it, but at this juncture your imaginary exceptionalism won't let you!

Sorry and 'umble apologies. I meant to give you a "Green Thumb" but my daffy shaky, essential-tremo r digits -or wrist, got to red first.
So consider that 'Red' a 'Green' agreement.
 
 
+11 # Dgreenb1 2015-02-06 13:45
ReiverPacific. That is exactly the answer. Unfortunately it will never happen here as the people that would have to change the system are the ones in office and they will never willingly relinquish their grip on the gold mine they have. It's like asking the fox in the hen house to put down the chicken in his mouth.
 
 
+9 # reiverpacific 2015-02-06 14:23
Quoting Dgreenb1:
ReiverPacific. That is exactly the answer. Unfortunately it will never happen here as the people that would have to change the system are the ones in office and they will never willingly relinquish their grip on the gold mine they have. It's like asking the fox in the hen house to put down the chicken in his mouth.


Heh-heh!
Or like asking the FOX News in the Ruppie Muckdoc, owner-media hen house to be honest and transparent, what?!
 
 
+1 # Douglas Jack 2015-02-06 14:43
Vox, RE: "We aren't going to change the Constitution". Thank you for your honesty, but you & your nation's concept of democracy is deeply dysfunctional, destructive & illegal. It never was & it never will be workable.

Humanity's worldwide 100s of 1000s of years old 'Indigenous' (Latin 'self-generatin g') & 1st Nation real 'democracy' (Greek 'power-of-the-p eople'), which colonists usurped, is based in 'Economy' (Gk 'oikos' = 'home' + 'namein' = 'care & nurture') first & politics second. Can we learn from our 7000 year old colonial institutional, economical & ecological disaster? The only true sovereignty here in the Americas are found in 1st Nation constitutions, laws & customs. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/relational-economy/8-economic-democracy

Its time to stop falsely lamenting for the white, male, slave-owning, moneyed, racist, genocidal, nature-hating invader 'revolution' of 1776 as anything but a fraud for purposes of theft & control. The problem is a continent full of racist, resource-extrac tors both at the corporate, war & personal level, unconscionably destroying the biosphere which supports life & full of every imaginable false-conceptio n against life.

With reference to humanity's worldwide universal indigenous ancestries both here & worldwide, we find a complex system of checks & balances which maintained peace & prosperity for 100s of 1000s of years for all our ancestors. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/home/2-mutual-aid
 
 
+13 # Walter J Smith 2015-02-06 16:23
This kind of ignorance is illustrative of what is wrong with Congress: "We don't have a Congress but a parliament

Over the last several decades, party loyalty has increased to near-unanimity. If a member of Congress doesn't vote with his or her party 99 percent of the time, he's considered unreliable and excluded from party decision-making . Gone are the days when you were expected to vote your conscience and your district, the true job of a congressperson. Parliaments only work because they have a prime minister who can get things done. We have a parliament without any ability to take executive action. We should not be surprised we are gridlocked."

Anybody who studies the difference between the single party in our congress right now and a parliament knows one thing above all others that characterized parliaments: they have multiple parties. Our congress has one party, and that party has two broken right wings.
 
 
+9 # reiverpacific 2015-02-06 16:51
Quoting Walter J Smith:
This kind of ignorance is illustrative of what is wrong with Congress: "We don't have a Congress but a parliament

Over the last several decades, party loyalty has increased to near-unanimity. If a member of Congress doesn't vote with his or her party 99 percent of the time, he's considered unreliable and excluded from party decision-making. Gone are the days when you were expected to vote your conscience and your district, the true job of a congressperson. Parliaments only work because they have a prime minister who can get things done. We have a parliament without any ability to take executive action. We should not be surprised we are gridlocked."

Anybody who studies the difference between the single party in our congress right now and a parliament knows one thing above all others that characterized parliaments: they have multiple parties. Our congress has one party, and that party has two broken right wings.


Exactly!
Then there's the "loyal" Blue-Dawg "DemPublicans" like our district in Oregon's Kurt Schrader, who votes with THEM >63% of the time, including recently, for the XL Death-pipeline.
I've challenged his office several times on his voting and record and you'd scarce believe the verbose gobbledygook of Politi-speak I received for replies; evasive doesn't even begin to describe them and I had others intelligent, concerned folks, read them just to make sure I wasn't losing my marbles and they agreed to a person.
 
 
+2 # Douglas Jack 2015-02-06 19:12
Walter RE: "two broken right wings". Good description. Lets take it further through 'Follow the money' particularly of the right wings. Over 7000 year history of colonization, certain individuals realized that; control of the economic world through money, provides them simultaneously control of politics.
“Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws.” Mayer Amschell Rothschild

We know that; aristocrat financiers (British Royals gather around Anglican church & European Royals around Vatican) who paid for ship transport of American colonists (economic-ecolo gical refugees from a war-torn Europe) also maintain control of invasive genocidal colonial policy. Oligarchs particularly control financial institutions, media, military, industrial & legislative complex both before & after a false 1776 revolution during which they paid for the guns, uniforms, bullets & continuing 1st Nation slaughter for both sides.

That; individuals successfully understand how important: 1) economic control is or 2) oligarch finance & control of media, education, tourism, museums, political parties etc., but don't allow facts to be gathered or to enter the public record, shouldn't surprise us to the least.

The key to system recapture is economic organization among ourselves in mutual-aid for food, shelter, clothing, warmth & health. 'Indigenous' (L 'self-generatin g') strategy, https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/structure/9-do-we-know-who-we-are
 
 
+2 # Cassandra2012 2015-02-09 14:51
Yes, even Sen. Mark Kirk (IL) always votes with his party, even when he KNOWS it is the wrong thing to do . After his stroke he
became more reflective and thought about others, but now he is again toeing the strict Teapugnican line.... He will lose votes from many of us out here who otherwise would have voted for him, but the Koch bros. and ALEC have their teeth firmly in him again these days. a waste of decency and intelligence.
 
 
+4 # Robbee 2015-02-06 17:06
a self-professed anonymous congressperson' s curiously mixed message arrives, at para 9, at it's conflicted message:

Congress is still necessary to save America, and cynics aren't helping ...

We aren't going to change the Constitution, so we need to make the system we have work ...

i am not discouraged about congress doing better, they have so much room for improvement that they can show some improvement, even in the next few years

but i refuse to be discouraged about amending our constitution so as to get all the money, lobbyists, state and federal and corruption out of elections

i lack any confidence that gerry-happy money-engorged congresspeople will limit campaign contributions on their own

i lack any patience that one of five corruption-advo cating supreme court justices will get replaced by an honest one

and i don't like cynics, hatchet-men and self-professed anonymous congresspersons telling us we can't do something we all know needs to get done, they waste our time
 
 
+5 # bckrd1 2015-02-06 21:33
"The point here isn't to make us something we're not. The point is to get us to make sausage again. But for that to happen, the people have to rise up and demand better."

It is what Jefferson said as well. Rise up. Revolutions have their purpose.
 
 
+3 # Eaglemount 2015-02-08 14:06
Here's what I have to say about this white washing pablum:

Release our elected officials from the pall of bribery. They need to be working for the betterment of the country, not soliciting donations. They cannot do this until they are released from bondage to special interests, and are publicly funded by tax revenues.

Sign the petition and tell our representatives we demand the end of the biggest conflict of interest on this planet - the flagrant purchase of our elected officials by those who stand to profit by that purchase.

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/public-funding-of-elected?source=s.tw&r_by=69509
 
 
+4 # CaliforniaDreamGirl 2015-02-08 14:08
Seems like this obviously young, optimistic congressman has almost had his spirit crushed. He could have saved discovery time by reading This Town, a book that describes 1-8 in glorious detail. Greed and power rule, with an occasional bone thrown to the citizens just so we don't revolt and throw the tea in the harbor again. Tea, anyone?
 
 
+1 # lyster 2015-02-08 15:03
STOP MAKING SAUSAGE! We don't want or need 90% of the awful tripe that you're producing, so don't feel compelled to push it out. In fact, we would be far better off if 90% of what you did was to repeal the rotten sausage you and your predecessors made. Just get off the pot.
 
 
+2 # Orsetto 2015-02-09 21:18
Dear member of Congress
Some things you say trouble me and need clarification. You write:
Anyone who is closer to your district than you are will replace you. Incumbents stick to their districts like Velcro.
My first question is, to whom do they stick in their districts? And what does this mean in light of your following points?
"1.Congress listens best to money"
This second point is not essentially coherent with the first. If you are in search of money 50 or 75 % of the time in what way are you sticking to your district? And if you are in your district why are the “whispers of ordinary Americans” being drowned? Don’t ordinary Americans live in your district? It seems that “your district” means the wealthy people who live there or have interests there or other interests that you can pursue qua member of congress.

"2.Almost everyone in Congress loves gerrymandering"
Again a window on incoherence. If only 20% of the seats in the House are competitive why must you sticking so close to your district, other than to pander to the interests of your wealthy donors and/or radical/reactio nary activists?
Are you actively promoting federal laws for redistricting?

"3.You have no secret ballot anymore"
Nothing new here. But are you working actively to address questions of privacy and the invasion of privacy in the name of security?

to be continued
 
 
+2 # Orsetto 2015-02-09 21:20
Dear Congressman (continued from above)
"4.We don't have a Congress but a parliament"
This is nonsense, the only reason it has devolved to this is because it is convenient to drop responsibility. Taken with the reality of safe seats and the question of wealthy funders, the convenience works nicely: if the voting coincides with their interests you voted that way, if it doesn’t you had no choice. Its win win because you are only responsible if it is useful and not when its not.

"5.Congressiona l committees are a waste of time"
Why learn how to walk if your mom strolls your around in a carriage? Or is the ‘sweet lobbying job’ more interesting than the grit and sweat of mastering the issues and taking a stand on them? Who are you in this process of uninformed lawmaking anyway?
"6.Congress is a stepping-stone to lobbying"
What does ‘talent’ mean here? Assuming that a willingness to master the issues, and to advocate in the face of opposition through personal moral/ethical conviction or ‘fiber’ if you will, than the idea of best talent does not seem to be applicable in the descriptions given herein. What was your name again?

"7.The best people don't run for Congress"
More incoherence and self exoneration, what was that about ‘best talent’ in point 6? Is the issue the media or the money, or the lobbying, or the ambition, or the kind of people the money attracts? Where is the idea of social/politica l vision in the public’s service?
continued
 
 
+2 # Orsetto 2015-02-09 21:46
Dear C(continued)
"8.Congress is still necessary to save American"
Our "Success" is questionable. We produce real wealth for very few people,a decent life for a fair number, a life of struggle and anxiety for most, and carceral hell and unmitigated poverty for the bottom 15%.
Elections are bought by a few people with personal and corporate politico-econom ic interests.
As for, the notion of "bouncing back" from mistakes, well take these "bounces": Vietnam to Iraq (false premises and utter disaster),dereg ulated banking the crash/depressio n after 1929 to deregulation of banking and the financial crisis of 2007/08 (and the coming de-re-regulation).

Sausage factories need, firstly, integrity ‘cause you can put any crap you want in a sausage and sell it in nice packages. They also need clear guidelines as to the ingredients and the manufacturing process.

Congress is not a sausage factory, it is the representative body of the people’s interests, it is the protector of the commonwealth.

This, of course, means give and take, but we need to set our minds somewhere beyond industrial food processing to approach democratic public service.

As for ‘the people’ rising up, if, as you insist, they are gerrymandered into non-competition , mis-informed and targeted by election purchase money, if they are disenfranchised , how might we expect a ‘rise up’? What tools are you offering beyond convenient excuses and platitudes? In what way does this article suggest leadership?
 

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.

RSNRSN