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 that 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 Alan 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."

2. You will be seventeen again — and not in a good way.

Politicians like to describe their profession as "war." It conjures a portrait of courage, gallantry and hand-to-hand combat — preferably featuring nicely oiled pectoral muscles. Which means it's a wholly unsuitable metaphor. When you fight by insulting people on TV, you're more Joan Rivers than George Patton.

After all, the dignified statesman does not stoop to fisticuffs. This is seen as inelegant — not to mention scary. So you assault your foes with innuendo, misinformation, rumor and, of course, Photoshop.

In other words, it's just like high school.

In the last election, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce presumably hired the cast of Mean Girls to attack Sherrod Brown. In one ad, his photo was doctored with a five-o'clock shadow to make him look as if he'd just returned from a three-week bender while living under a bridge. Sherrod Brown: He doesn't even bathe.

Rumor works just as well, as West Virginia officials learned during the recent sign-up for Obamacare. Some residents resisted, having heard that it required the implanting of a chip in their bodies. This, apparently, was a deal-breaker.

You can even count on being undermined by your own party. Tancredo recalls the incessant pressure from leadership to toe the Republican line. On this job, independence is one of the graver sins, certain to leave lasting stains on your permanent record.

"The most serious threats they could muster is that you were going to ruin your career in this place," he says. "People there, that's the most enticing thing to them. I'd tell him, 'I don't want a career in this place. I don't even like this place.'"

Then there's the case of Congressman Vance McAllister, a Republican from Louisiana. Last month, he was working late in his district office. This afforded him the opportunity to engage in a brief but festive make-out session with aide Melissa Peacock.

Problem No. 1: McAllister had appeared in campaign commercials with his wife and five children, promising to "defend our Christian way of life." (Most likely by renaming post offices after biblical greats.)

Problem No. 2: Ms. Peacock was married to someone other than Vance McAllister.

Problem No. 3: McAllister's amorous lip wrestling was caught on security tape. And leaked to a newspaper. Allegedly by someone on his own staff.

This Judas environment is to be expected. When an entire enterprise is built on avoiding accomplishment, backstabbing and palace intrigue become the sport of the realm.

DeConcini recently visited a Republican friend in Congress. "He told me how terrible it was," he says. "He said it was just awful, even in his own caucus. There's a gotcha feeling."

He then visited with a liberal Democrat. "He told me the same thing about the Democrats: 'I gotta have my way, and I gotta show that I'm tough,'" he says.

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3 comments
Laura Dee
Laura Dee

Um no. I will not have sympothy for those ovepaid idiots. Their job is not easy, but their exorbitant pay and benifits more than makes up for it. Pay them minimum wage and make them deal with crappy average citizens' healthcare, and THEN maybe they have the worst job. MAYBE.

Justin N Rachel Hager
Justin N Rachel Hager

It's the Best job in America...you get great healthcare, pay, perks and don't actually have to "do" anything.

EHOlsen
EHOlsen

Oh, WAAAAAH!  Seriously?  Cry me a river.  You get access to business information that the rest of us don't typically have access to and face no SEC problems if you act upon that info in the market.  Seriously, what did the Good Congressman expect he would do?

 
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