Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Election 2010: The Aftermath: The Preview

By now, you are in all likelihood sick of the election. It happens to pretty much everybody, me included, in just about every election cycle. The ads get too negative and too outrageous, they come too thick, too fast, they all just blur together after a while and you just want Tuesday to hurry up and get here already. I remember one time, when I was working the phones in 2004 for John Kerry, that some woman that got called (not by me, but someone in the same campaign outpost while I was present) said that she was adding up all the times she was called by Kerry, and all the times she was called by Bush, and then voting for whoever called her the least. True story.

Bad news on that: after the election, you don't get to cool down. In fact, the transition period can be the most critical of all in an incoming Congressperson's career. They can torpedo every principle they have before they're even sworn in.

Before we get to that, though, a note on what happens to the losers during this period; the incumbents that have been voted out. They get packed off and sent to the basement.

No, really. When you lose your seat in Congress, your big office that you've gotten used to goes away. You and your staff are transferred to the "transitional suite", which is a nice way of saying that you're shoved into a 5x5 cubicle in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building with "little more than a tiny desk, a laptop, a phone, and a box of Kleenex." It is every bit as humiliating as it sounds. Re-elected members of Congress need to decide whether to move operations into a more convenient space, and incoming members of Congress need an office, period, having originally been given the "transitional suite" themselves. And someone needs your office. Which means YOU can't have it anymore. Your last two months are primarily spent trying to find jobs for your staff, who will also be out of office.

That out of the way, on to the winners. The incoming freshmen. Why do you need to pay attention to them immediately?

Because somebody has to help save the morally weak from themselves. You see, prior to being sworn in, they are not members of Congress (the official terminology). Not technically. They are members-elect. There's a big difference. Members are subject to gift-giving ethics laws. Members-elect, not being members, are not.

And the lobbyists- oh so many lobbyists- know this. They can sniff out a member-elect, give them a mansion, a yacht and a diamond-studded alligator and it's perfectly legal. Unethical as hell, but legal. Needless to say, this is done with as many members-elect as they can get their hands on.

During the transition period, Congressional officials administer "Freshmen Orientation. Here, they supply the freshmen with instruction on everything under the sun they might want or need to know about staffing, office design, perks, responsibilities, ethics, rules, legislation, constituent correspondence, where the bathroom is, everything. It's at about this point that a lot of the freshmen first start to wonder what the hell they've just signed up for. "Deer-in-the-headlights" expressions are common. Utter bewilderment. And remember, they haven't even done anything yet. Some of them are still attempting to find housing. Some end up sleeping in cots in their office; those that do are generally embarrassed to admit it. Jason Chaffetz of Utah will freely say it, but he's the exception.

This is something that a lobbyist with the proper connections can quite easily remedy. Of course, the lobbyist will then have easy access to the member-elect any time they're inside-- which is, of course, behind closed doors. That, obviously, is the point. The lobbyist isn't offering housing out of the goodness of their heart.

And remember, the member-elect only has two months before they're bound by gift-giving laws and have to turn it down. And they're in a giant hurry to get all their other affairs settled besides. The weaker-willed can wilt under the pressure.

And, of course, nothing says the lobbyists have to wait for someone to actually be elected to start trying to get to somebody. (They simply choose not to much of the time; they don't want to anger the incumbent, who they already have a relationship with, should he win re-election.) Nothing says the lobbyists can't make their own runs for office, either.

This is where you come in. The tendency to fund incumbents makes your task of finding the weaker-willed challengers difficult, but it can be done. Weak wills can be sniffed out. You're not necessarily looking for someone unsure of themselves. Minds can be changed given new experiences and new information. That's fine. That's human. In fact, when you get down to it, that's the way lobbying is supposed to work.

It's a little more complicated than that. There are no shortage of people out there that will tell you how to build up your willpower. But, of course, there has to be a weakness first. If you see someone changing their mind five times a week, that's a red flag. Changing one's mind is natural, but at some point there has to be a limit. If they're coming into Congress with barely any convictions at all, there are people that will be glad to give them some.

But that's the direct approach. That's looking for the weak will itself. Subtler red flags- the ones that tend to get addressed by all the willpower-building programs- often include:

*A generally negative attitude towards life, inferred by tips instructing one to improve said outlook.
*Bad habits, inferred by tips to exercise self-control. Smoking, excessive drinking, obesity, etc.
*Lack of perserverance.
*Procrastination, inferred directly here.
*The inability to say no.

That last one is the most important. After all, if they can't say no to anyone else, how are they going to say no to a lobbyist? How are they going to say no under pressure?

It's on you to make sure they can.

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