Posted on December 7, 2012
When I first left the lobbying world to rejoin the public sector, Haley Barbour, who was my boss at the time, said that it would far better to know John Feehery than to be John Feehery.
That’s not exactly true, because I loved working in the House of Representatives, but from a monetary standpoint, it was a fair point.
People made a lot more money knowing me than I made knowing myself.
That is the nature of Washington, which is a town based on relationships. And if you have a lot relationships and more importantly relationships with the right people in the right place at the right time, well, then you can make a lot of money here.
I mention this because over this past week, two prominent politicians decided that they would rather make money on the outside than make progress on the inside.
And instead of serving out their terms, JoAnn Emerson and Jim DeMint decided to leave prematurely. Emerson just won re-election; DeMint just became the ranking member of the Commerce Committee and would have easily won re-election had he decided to stick around.
Emerson could have been an Appropriations Cardinal, a post in years past that Members of Congress gladly waited decades to achieve. Instead she decided to become the head of an association dedicated to bringing cheap electricity to rural parts of America.
DeMint, as ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, could have fought to deregulate the telecommunications industry, fought to impose decency standards on content providers, or done a bunch of other things in varied parts of America’s commercial life. Instead, he joined the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Both of these politicians have decided that they would rather make money for themselves rather than make money for people who may or may not know them.
But I think they also both believe that they can do more good on the outside than they could ever do on the inside. Emerson, I would imagine, has grown frustrated that the once-powerful Appropriations Committee has lost much of its luster. They don’t do earmarks any more, and the Subcommittees rarely, if ever, get their work completed on time or in isolation. For a legislator like Emerson, that must be frustrating. She can’t take care of her district and she most likely can’t steer her bills to their conclusion.
DeMint never seemed to like the Senate. He liked to throw bombs too much. He wasn’t the kind to cut deals and move the process forward. He was the kind to draw bright lines in the sand, and condemn anybody who crossed over them.
One of the greatest Senators of all time, Everett Dirksen once said, “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.” That wasn’t DeMint’s deal. Flexibility was weakness, squishiness, unseemly behavior that needed to be combated at every corner.
At Heritage, they don’t do flexibility. They do rigid orthodoxy. And at their SuperPac, they get special enjoyment attacking Republicans who veer ever so slightly from their sharp orthodoxy.
DeMint famously said that he would rather have 30 true conservatives in the Senate than a majority of Republicans that included colleagues who didn’t share his doctrinaire views of the world. And thanks to the DeMint vision, the Senate Republican caucus has gotten closer to that reality (Christine O’Donnell, Sharon Angle, Ken Buck, Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin).
For a guy like Jim DeMint, a think tank like Heritage is the perfect place to hang your hat. He can do his right-wing thing without ever getting his hands dirty plowing the legislative fields.
It is striking that both Emerson and DeMint, who have nothing in common politically - except for the coincidence that they are both Republicans, have concluded that it is worthless to continue in their current jobs and that they can do far more good for themselves (and presumably for the country) by resigning their positions before their terms are up and go do something else.
The life of a Federal legislator is not that much fun. It is hard work. The pay isn’t that great. You have to put up with a lot of crap. You probably aren’t going to accomplish much. You don’t have many perks any more, and the perks that you do have are constantly under attack. You can never let your guard down, because there is always some campaign tracker on your ass. And you have to spend all of your time raising money from people who want something from you.
Not fun. I suppose I don’t blame them for calling it quits.