Last night’s primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 7th Congressional District of Virginia is sending pundits scurrying to reap all the messages his defeat might send.
While this isn’t the sole reason for the result, from what I’m hearing from people who live there, Majority Leader Cantor lost because he became so enthralled with leading Republicans in the House of Representatives that he completely forgot the real reason he was there.
Voters of the 7th Congressional District reminded him last night.
Meanwhile, reports are that as election returns were coming out, a party at Nancy Pelosi’s house became an outright celebration over Cantor’s demise. Evidently, the Minority Leader was herself absolutely giddy over the Cantor defeat.
Ms. Pelosi, first elected to Congress in 1987, evidently doesn’t believe this sort of thing could happen to her. Maybe it can’t, but perhaps it should.
A culture exists in Washington that tends to suck even very well intentioned people in. Along the way, elected officials become so drunk with their own power that they seem to forget why and how they got there. As citizens, we enable this attitude by voting for them over and over again as though on Election Day we’re heading to the polling place in Tehran instead of our local voting location and have no other choice than to vote for the incumbent.
I saw how all this works firsthand as an intern in Washington during college. Something about the atmosphere on Capitol Hill makes even interns feel a little special. With our badges, we could walk certain corridors not open to the general public. If we were sick, we could go down to the House medical staff for attention. Dining halls were reserved for staff. Personally, I loved it. It was a wonderful experience, but I can also see how that rarified air could get to you, particularly if you not only had special credentials but real power to go along with them.
One day I’ll never forget, I witnessed an example of the entire problem associated with all of this in one otherwise benign incident.
Congressional offices have many doors. One door most people don’t know about is the door that leads directly out of the congressman’s office. If he needs to quickly vote or just doesn’t want to be bothered by the public or staff, he can quietly leave the office without anyone noticing or at least that’s how it was in the Rayburn House Office Building where the representative I was working for had his office.
One morning, I was asked to work the reception desk. When the congressman arrived, he gave me specific instructions. If anyone asked, he wasn’t there. No exceptions.
A couple of hours into my stint a very lovely family of four from the congressman’s district walked in asking if they could see him. These people clearly just wanted to meet their congressman. They weren’t lobbying for anything other than the opportunity to provide the kids with some positive insight into how our government works.
“I’m sorry he’s not here,” I told them much to their clear disappointment. As consolation, I offered them tickets to every monument I could find.
As I was preparing all the special tickets, who walks out his office door but the congressman himself. He smiled and shook each of their hands and then strolled on down the hall.
Immediately, I felt absolutely betrayed. How could he give me very strict orders to keep people away from him and then do something like this?
Then it dawned on me. These people had no idea who they just met. None. Clearly, they relied on the fact that, per his instructions, I said he wasn’t there, and since they really had no idea who he was or what he looked like they didn’t know they’d just met him.
As a young college student studying government, I was stunned to see that many citizens really don’t seem to know or care who wields so much power over them.
That’s unfortunate because I honestly believe it’s our duty as citizens to know these things. A good start is knowing just how long any particular person has served in Washington. Even the finest person imaginable may need to move on so that new voices and ideas can come into the process.
Frankly, if there is only one person qualified in your congressional district to represent you for the past thirty years, you should seriously consider moving.
We need to change the culture in DC. A good start is for each of us to look at our own representative. Whether Democrat or Republican, if this person first entered the hallowed halls of Congress when Ronald Reagan was running things, perhaps it’s time to bring them back home.