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On the Diane Rehm show yesterday, the discussion centered on the latest efforts to end the impasse in Washington.  One guest was a negotiations expert, who talked about zero-sum games, compromising vs. "satisfising", organizational goals, etc.  

The discussion really became interesting when one of the callers, identifying himself as a former Capitol Hill staffer, stated that none of these strategies applied because Congress was an institution, not an organization.  He said that it was composed of 535 separate gigantic egos, whose only interest was themselves, and whose only goal was to destabilize the institution enough so that no one could tell them what to do.  I believe this insight (which was essentially ignored or misunderstood by the guests) pinpoints the real dysfunction in Congress, one that mirrors the current societal obsession with celebrity divorced from talent or achievement.

It would be easy to dismiss this point as the whining of a disgruntled employee, but my own experience tends to confirm it. In my former job, I had occasion to deal with many Congressmen (both Senators and Representatives) on "fact-finding" trips abroad. The protocol was that the Embassy would set up a "Welcome Room" with drinks and snacks and foreign service personnel to cater to the needs of the visiting Congressperson.  Sometimes the Congressmen would visit in person (and their egos were manifest); sometimes they would send staffers.  The staffers would, without exception, refer to their bosses not by name, but as "the Congressman" or "the Senator", as though they were the only one, or more to the point, as though they were royalty, and we citizens but peons. The Congresscritters were self-absorbed celebrities, each with his own little entourage to stroke his ego and service his every need.  

And the needs were never related to the supposed purpose of their trip, they were always of "The Devil Loves Prada" sort:  send flowers to the woman I had dinner with (I don't remember her name); get these Cuban cigars on a military flight back so they don't go through customs; cancel my meetings with local government officials and get me a chauffeur to take me to this Michelin-starred restaurant in the neighboring country.  All the events were photo ops devoid of content, even religious practice.  One staffer said "the Congressman" would like to attend church services.  "What denomination?" I asked.  "It doesn't matter -- the one that was in the New York Times."  

It's not going to be possible to resolve this through rational compromise, any more than an open letter to Miley Cyrus is going to change her behavior.  Any solution is going to have to involve an appeal to ego and an assurance that these little demigods are just as important and unconstrained in their actions as they think they are.

Originally posted to fleisch on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 10:05 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.


I believe that Congress is

6%8 votes
29%38 votes
18%24 votes
27%35 votes
17%22 votes

| 127 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Congress has always been a cast of Divas, (7+ / 0-)

    as far as I can tell.

    I'm wondering if the difference wasn't that their USED to be some real leadership; some bull loony to corral all those other primadonas and head them in a given direction.

    With no competent leader, the individual loonies are free to run riot.

    •  There used to be money that the leadership ... (4+ / 0-)

      ... could use to get them in line. After all, herding Congresscritters is like herding cats, most easily done by holding up a nice smelly piece of bologna.

      But with party controlled soft campaign money replaced by tax control fraud "non-political", non-disclosure funding streams and without earmarks that can be handed out or withheld to give the Congresscritter a ribbon cutting during primary or general election season (whichever is most useful) ...

      ... to a substantial extend, we've taken the bologna out of the hands of the Republican leadership.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 11:16:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I read the following late last night. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fleisch, StrayCat

    It has the ring of reality to it.  Khyber900 seems to know what the politicians are doing.

    MON OCT 14, 2013 AT 11:38 PM PDT
    GOP Shutdown/Default - Latest Updates 10-14-13: Senate Deal Close; Tea Party Barks; Sequester Fight
    by    khyber900.    Follow

    Time is a long river.

    by phonegery on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 10:46:50 AM PDT

  •  All I wanted was a Pepsi (5+ / 0-)

    In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry, and is generally considered to have been a bad move. -- Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

    by boriscleto on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 11:11:33 AM PDT

  •  Yes, it would operate much better as a mental (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave1955, fleisch, StrayCat, splashy, Sunspots

    institution, except the teabaggers appear to have already undergone lobotomies.

    Blue, blue, my world is blue...

    by ZedMont on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 02:01:52 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the rescue! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annan, splashy

    My first ever rescued diary.  It needed the lift :)

    Silence is not an effective reply to propaganda.

    by fleisch on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 05:18:14 PM PDT

  •  Congress is Neither (6+ / 0-)

    for years now it's been a front organization for big profitable corporations and special interest groups.

    "The 1% don't want SOLUTIONS; they've worked very hard the last four decades to get conditions the way they are now".

    by Superpole on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 05:52:21 PM PDT

  •  And many of the egos are the kind of people (3+ / 0-)

    ...who enjoy pissing on anthills because it makes them feel so powerful.  

    That's why so many have cackled with glee on national television that they've been able first to defeat venerable incumbents and then to shut down the government of the most powerful nation in the world and hold it hostage over the debt default.

    What can you do with that level of maturity?

    Ideology is when you have the answers before you know the questions.
    It is what grows into empty spaces where intelligence has died.

    by Alden on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 07:10:36 PM PDT

  •  I don't trust them (8+ / 0-)

    I agree that the majority of politicians are self-centered, narcissistic people. In everyday life, I find people like that non-trustworthy. The same goes with politicians. I don't trust them by default. Anyone with enough money can win an election in this country. A politician must earn my trust. Very few have done that.

    Most of the politicians holding public office in Washington, D.C. are lawyers or businessmen who had the means to put themselves in a position to be one of the two choices their electorate was forced to chose from. In other words, they are not special.

    Once they hold the people's office, they routinely ignore their constituents in favor of lobbyists and special interest groups. Don't believe me? Make a concerted effort to actually talk to your politician. It's not easy. Harder still, make a concerted effort to have a substantive conversation to your politician. It's downright impossible in most cases because almost all politicians speak rhetoric, not English. Chances are that your politician is saying the exact same thing as the politicians in every state that borders yours and every state that borders those.

    Once a politician earns my trust, they earn the right to be called a public servant. Very few politicians in my opinion are public servants. Even fewer are selfless enough to be called a statesmen.

    Politicians swell the ranks of both political parties. Neither party has a monopoly on public servants or statesman.

    That being said, I do not trust a single Tea Party Republican. They are politicians. They do not care about public service.

    •  it's because (3+ / 0-)

      the money involved is so ludicrous (hundreds of thousands of dollars for utility board and learning community seats in a mid-sized city) that only those in lines of work with theoretically unlimited incomes can participate. that leaves you with lawyers and financiers. the professions that require the very most ability, i.e. scientists and engineers, have incomes limited by ethical practice. scientists and engineers cannot afford to run for even the most podunk local office, let alone congress. our campaign finance system precludes the chance for a technocratic, efficient legislative branch.

    •  i wanna hotlist your comment.. (0+ / 0-)


  •  The republicans have officially Inc. themselves (0+ / 0-)

    in front of the world.

  •  These days congress appears to be an institution (0+ / 0-)

    for the criminally insane.

    If there is no accountability for those who authorized torture, we can no longer say that we are a nation of laws, not men.

    by MikePhoenix on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 11:01:08 PM PDT

  •  I detest how anyone attempting to show that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    while God's in his heaven, all is not right with the world is mocked as a whiner. How many times have I read some irritatingly perky, clueless "How to find a job in these times" column about "Don't ever, ever, EVER say a bad thing about your former employer!" Even if said employer could have taught Torquemada a thing or two, one must say that it was the greatest experience since they invented Vegemite, or risk being tagged as a whiner and malcontent. Is that an adjunct of political correctness' insistence that anything and everything be exclusively POSITIVE?

  •  I imagine most are social dominants (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No one gets out alive

    Narcissistic sociopaths that are only about themselves and making sure they feel like they are important.

    They don't care about what they tell others to do, just that others do it to prove they are "important."

    I'm thinking that women might be a little bit better, since they are not as driven as men who have that "male ego" thing going on.

    At least the women that don't kowtow to the men. The conservative women tend to do that more.

    Women create the entire labor force.
    Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Wed Oct 16, 2013 at 06:19:09 AM PDT

  •  I think there is a difference in the type of egos (2+ / 0-)

    There used to be mostly people who had big egos but were interested in a actual governance, and just a few coasted through, whose only real goal was to get either a pension or a cushy lobbyist job on the other end of their service.

    Now we've got a big group with not only big egos but a mission of destruction, based in zealotry.

    This means that the old style of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" political sausage-making just can't work. These people have a religious conviction (some literally) that drives them to destroy the current government and all the social programs it represents in their minds.

    They are not playing by the same rules as the other big egos, and it appears to have taken until now for the leadership to truly understand that. The human tendency to assume that everyone else is just like us, but with some differences around the margins, makes it so we are easily misled to believe that crazed ideologues (at least the ones on "our" side) are capable of seeing reason - right up until the moment it's too late, and they're not only throwing monkey wrenches into the works, they're actively hacking away with crowbars and igniting metaphorical explosives.

    •  They don't beleive in democracy. At all. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radical simplicity

      I think you're right about this.

      It's a sort of soft coup.

      They are destroying the system from within.

      Perfectly legal, in our representative democracy.

      If they can convince enough people to vote for them, than they can fairly say that this IS the peoples will.

      I guess we don't want democracy anymore.

      Pretty fucked up to think that most people are so weak minded that they want to be told what to do.

      It's safer that way, I guess.

      That way, if anything bad happens, it's someone else's fault.


      I think I need to go live with some people that still have spines.  And souls.

      The Fail will continue until actual torches and pitchforks are set in motion. -

      by No one gets out alive on Wed Oct 16, 2013 at 07:02:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not exceptional... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Just how are these people different from your average CEO? Or Wall St. bankers or brokers? Hell... my last 3 GM's didn't give a damn about the company, the customers, or the employees. It was all about them and their careers. Have we forgotten about the days before the 2008 crash when the ideology of "I'll be gone and you'll be gone" ruled the day?

    In their eyes there's something lacking; what they need's a damn good whacking.

    by Mad City 67 on Wed Oct 16, 2013 at 07:04:28 AM PDT

  •  If Congress is an institution, (0+ / 0-)

    shouldn't its members be inmates?

    The GOP can't win on ideas. They can only win by lying, cheating, and stealing. So they do.

    by psnyder on Wed Oct 16, 2013 at 08:02:05 PM PDT

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