That great sucking sound you hear is the annual evacuation of Washingtonians. Tired and weary, but nonetheless self-important, they snatch a little beach time and act like other people.
The upper tier — including President Obama and his family — flock to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. A few — most notably storied editor Ben Bradlee and his fabled party giving-wife, Sally Quinn — enjoy the delights of Long Island and the Hamptons. Alas, Washington incomes aren’t commensurate with Washington egos; hence the Hamptons are only for the few, and those with super-rich friends.
A little pity, please, for members of Congress at this time of year. While bureaucrats, senior civil servants, lobbyists and journalists have boardwalk splinters in their feet and spilled beer on their T-shirts, legislators have to face the voters. Ugh!
This year, that’s an especially nasty experience.
All the polls say only about 11 percent of the country approve of the job Congress is doing. That’s tough enough, but this year there are the unemployed–the same unemployed as last year, but now they are more bitter and angry.
Legislators have forgotten the platitudes used to calm the unemployed last year. But the unemployed have not; and worse, the local TV stations can pull up clips as fast as a member of Congress can say “my record shows.”
If you’ve made a point of denouncing the deficit, it’s hard to explain why you haven’t been more diligent in bringing home the bacon to your constituency. If it’s your summer boondoggle, it’s hard to explain that it’s an entitlement.
You get a holiday in an election year? Get off it. When comfortably re-elected, you can contemplate a little time with you feet up. Unless you want to join the unemployed, better campaign; and campaign some more when fatigue has gripped you by the soft parts. Hit the phones and beg for money.
To stay in Washington, you need to be able to denounce Washington in brutal terms, while yearning for the members’ dining room, the simpering of the staff, and the adulation of the cable television network that agrees with you.
Every day you must praise the wonders of America and your fabulous constituency, while you long for a congressional fact-finding trip to London, Paris or Rome. After all, you’ve been stuffed with barbecue since you got back to the voters: the God-fearing, family-loving, hard-working, ignorant pain-in-the-butt hicks.
What do voters know of the burden of office?
What do they know of you being cajoled in the White House while the TV cameras are lining the driveway, waiting just for you? What do they know of representing our country at dinner at 10 Downing Street or the Elysee Palace? Have they ever had an audience with the Pope?
What do the voters know of the thrill of dropping in on our troops in Afghanistan with a TV crew? If you do that, you can almost book yourself on a Sunday morning talk show. Heck you can feel thrilled on “Meet the Press,” even if David Gregory reads aloud an encyclopedic list of your gaffes, votes, and friends of the opposite sex.
Actually, the worker bees of the nation’s capital just hate to be away. If you are a member of Congress, you’re reminded that there are nasty people with clever advertising agencies, trying to get into Washington and make you part of that unemployment statistic.
Even those who don’t have to run for office feel the burden of free-floating anxiety. Who’s after my job? I make out to be the most important job in the most important city in the world, even if I know in my heart I’m a clerk.