An enduring image of the citizen legislator has always been Jimmy Stewart’s role in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” As Filmsite.org summarizes, “Stewart's character represents the powerful forces of American freedom, democracy and morality over oppression and evil in his emotional portrait of a naive, idealist, patriotic young politician who, after being sent to Washington (a symbol of liberty and democracy) as a junior senator from an un-named state, matures in wisdom, fights political corruption within his state's political machine, and guards American values as a moral hero.”
But that movie was made in 1939 and since then Mr. Smith just doesn’t seem to be the man he once was.
According to a recent story in the Huffington Post, Congress people are required to spend about four hours a day making telemarketing calls to scrounge up funds for their respective parties. Huff Po said it obtained a Power Point presentation on the practice of “Call Time” from the Democratic National Committee, but members of both parties are quoted reacting to the story.
Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) said he didn’t put in four hours a day for the GOP, but confirmed the practice, adding, “An hour and a half is about as much as I can tolerate....I don’t know how anyone could tolerate that (four hours)....Why would you want this stupid job if you had to do that?”
But former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) said if anything the four hour number “may be low balling the figure so as not to scare new Members too much.” Since it’s illegal to make fundraising calls from a Member’s Congressional office, “Call Time” takes place from a room at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the National Republican Congressional Committee or a row house off Capitol Hill specifically used for that purpose.
Now, everyone knows that Congress Critters have to raise money, but does anyone expect the process to take up half of the public’s workday and resemble a boiler room from Glen Garry Glen Ross?
In addition, Congressmen are required to pay “dues” to their respective parties and the better committee assignments require heavier dues. What would poor Jimmy Stewart have to cough up to land an assignment on the powerful Appropriations Committee today?
The reality of the power of the party in determining an individual member’s schedule and vote must be deflating to new Members of Congress. For example, in 2010 both Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) rode to their seats under the banner of the newly emergent Tea Party Movement which champions small government, reducing the deficit, and balancing the budget.
Ayotte, though, voted for the Reid-McConnell compromise in the Senate, and Noem voted for the bill in the House. For this, Noem was compared to former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) on her own Facebook page. Sic transit gloria.
In a recent poll, Congress received a 9 percent favorability rating. Public Policy Polling
asked the public to rate Congress against everyday menaces, and it came in below root canals, cockroaches, traffic jams, even lice infestation.
This is what happens when Members of Congress buy their committee assignments and sell their souls. As Rep. Ribble said, “Why would you want this stupid job if you have to do that?”