Candidates seeking high office, especially those who are novices unfamiliar with the basics of American government, often perceive political careers as glamorous. After the election, however, these candidates confront a cold reality – governing and legislating is difficult, tiresome, and often pretty dull.
How politicians adapt to this rude awakening determine whether they’ll be successful. Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin, for example, appears to have made a poor career choice by entering politics in the first place.
Running as a novice in 2010, Johnson frequently struggled to offer any depth on any subject, declaring shortly before the election, “I don’t believe this election really is about details.” In one especially jarring example, Johnson chatted with the Green Bay Press Gazette’s editorial board, which pressed the Republican on economic policy. Johnson talked about “cutting spending,” and “getting the economy moving,” but simply couldn’t answer any questions with any substance at all. It was painful to watch.
Two years later, Roll Call reports that Johnson is poised to “purge nearly his entire Washington, D.C.-based legislative team,” in large part because they expect the senator to work on legislation – and he doesn’t want to.
“He’s an interesting case study of someone who has talked more than he has listened, lectured more than he has developed relationships with his colleagues, and now he’s having a tough time because of that behavior in advancing his policy goals,” one senior GOP aide said. “It’s kind of like watching a temper tantrum by a 2-year-old in the middle of the grocery store.” […]
Sources indicated that when Johnson came to Washington, he put a staff together like “any other Senator” but quickly realized that the day-to-day grind of legislating was not his forte. Johnson said last week that he wanted more of his office’s focus to be on building an effective messaging operation.
Yes, Johnson, like all freshmen, was supposed to do the grunt work of learning how to become a real senator, but according to Republicans on the Hill, he’s decided it’s more fun to give speeches and come up with soundbites.
“Messaging” is fun; governing is hard.
This seems entirely too common in contemporary Republican politics – the challenging work of crafting legislation, assembling coalitions, trudging through the committee process, making concessions, and agreeing to compromises requires a real commitment, and for those who just want to appear on Fox News, parade around CPAC with an entourage, and feel important, there appears to be no desire to actually legislate.
Congress is suffering through a tough time right now, and has several institutional problems. But it might function better if it had more grown-ups.