Public office isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For those of you who think being a Senator or Representative is like Scandal or West Wing, it’s not black tie parties, drunken bacchanals, or high society soirees at all. Here’s a typical week for a first term Congressperson when Congress is in session:
Monday- Get up at 5 to go to the airport and fly from home to DC. Land at 10. Staffer drives you to the Capitol where you arrive at 10:30 in DC traffic. Meet with staff to discuss what’s bills are coming up that week and the variously scheduled appointments. Meet with constituents. Meet with different groups discussing particular bills; this is actually important as it helps provide insight into the bill’s impact. Fundraising calls for 2 hours; if you’re not doing this, you’re not getting re-elected (seriously, the ability to get your message out and rebut any negative ads about you is a necessary and costly requirement of the job). Read through the constituent feedback (calls/emails) summaries and various factual information to help you better understand the issues. After 11 or so, if you’re lucky, you can sleep (often in your office or a studio apartment close to your office).
Tuesday through Thursday- Caucus meeting. Committee Meeting. Markup bills. Meet with more constituents. Procedural votes on bills. Back to Committee meeting. Fundraising calls for 2 hours. Receive calls from Committee Chair/Party Whip/Party Leadership regarding positions on the upcoming bills. Votes on the floor until 9 or 10 (if you are lucky). Order pizza or take out and read some more. After 1, try to sleep.
Friday– Hope for an early vote or quick recess. If not, you have to reschedule flights to get back home. If there is a quick recess, you might be able to fly back at noon. Land in district at 2-3. Drive 2 hours to an Elks Dinner, Fish Fry, VFW Hall, etc to meet with more constituents. Talk to district staff about helping out whatever group you’ll be meeting with in whatever way possible. Get home maybe at 10 or 11 depending on how close it was.
Saturday. Travel from Town Hall to Town Hall. Parade to Parade. Maybe see family at 3 or so.
Sunday. If you are lucky and don’t have to get back out to DC by Monday, you might get a day to spend with your wife and kid who is growing so fast every time you see them they grow 3 inches.
And through all of this, it is being interrupted by even MORE people, constituents happy with what you did, constituents who are NOT happy about what you did, protesters who may or may not even BE constituents. People who harass you regularly, at any time, because they feel that as you are their elected representative, that you have no private life.
Now, obviously, this is a more extreme example. People who are elected to state and local government have smaller jurisdictions, are less well known, and with it a certain level of anonymity. However, as a public figure, they soon learn that “public life” is a 24/7 proposition, and the higher you go, the less of that 24/7 you have to yourself.
Which is why the recent trend of harassing public figures in such mundane things as attending a restaurant is a little troubling. It’s one thing for an owner to ask someone to leave, as they did in Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ case; owners have that right to deny service on the idea that someone might cause a disruption. But it’s an entirely separate thing to harass someone or protest in their face, while they are trying to have some semblance of a private life and try to relax from the rigors of day to day life as an elected official. People may get great joy out of protesting in the face of Mitch McConnell as he goes to dinner, or stalking the Department of Homeland Security through a fancy restaurant or ridiculing Stephen Miller so much he abandons his sushi. However, 1) it doesn’t fix anything regarding the issue you want addressed, 2) it’s counterproductive–harassment is a disincentive for people to help you with your cause; and 3) it sympathizes the harassed.
So why does it matter you may ask? Because there are literally millions of people who would love to help. They’d love to run for office to make their communities better, they’d love to help fix our problems to the best of their abilities, and moreover, they would be great at it. Unfortunately, what keeps them from doing so is the idea that while trying to just have a relaxing night out with their family after a long week of completing all the other trappings of elected office, they are going to be interrupted and harassed by random non-constituent upset that they voted a particular way on a bill.
One of the requirements of claiming we live in a civil society is that we be civil to one another. This includes treating the people who represent us civilly. If you are angry with them, or want to oust them from office, or want to send a message, contact their office (believe it or not, they DO listen to these more than you know), or more importantly vote. Contribute to groups agreeing with your cause. Put your time and effort into constructive positive organization.
And the best thing is that you set a good example that others want to emulate and be a part of; you can capture more bees with sugar than with vinegar.