But since everyone in Washington is busy being so not Washington, the toxicity of the job is always someone else's fault. Yes, crowing about "personal responsibility" plays before the cameras — yet only amateurs dare practice it.

"Even members of Congress hate Congress," says an aide. "It's just that they each believe themselves to be the exception to the rule. Congress is not a team with a collective identity. It's a collection of individuals guided almost exclusively by ruthless self-interest."

1. The least among you will get the most attention.

In one sense, "Congress is a microcosm of the country," says former representative Bartlett. "There's going to be 15 to 20 percent who do nothing, 15 to 20 percent who do everything and the rest in between."

The problem is that those who do nothing are celebrated the most.

To be a fixture of the greenroom requires special bombast. You'll need tales of villainy. High-decibel outrage. A prevailing sense of victimhood. If you can't do it with a straight face, forget about making Sean Hannity's guest list.

The same skills apply to courting donors. "One of the ways you raise money is by appearing to be very adamant and unforgiving," says Bob Graham. "The more strident you are, the more likely you are to be successful in the financial returns."

Yet ceaseless shrieking, as you may have guessed, can make you deeply unpopular with colleagues. They may name a post office after your ex-wife.

"A successful member of Congress is not going to talk like Rush Limbaugh, blasting away," says Bartlett. "There are some members who do, but they're not going to be successful. If you're attacking all the time, maybe you incite the crowd, but not many members are going to vote with you."

Yet, as Tancredo tells it, a good chunk of Congress is perfectly happy being hostile to success — as long as they can moonlight as TV pundits. You still get the private sauna, the small army of supplicants and the powerful people gathering outside your door, waiting to bathe you in flattery and tribute.

"That was the most aggravating thing, looking around and seeing so many people who just wanted to be in Congress," Tancredo says. "You got your paycheck. You got your perks. What the hell? It's better than driving a cab." 

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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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