In early 1977, I needed a job. I had been Ron Paul’s research assistant. He had been defeated by fewer than 300 votes out of 180,000 the previous November. I still thought I might stay in Washington.
I did not get a job on Capitol Hill. I did not stay in Washington. For this, I am grateful.
In 1977, I wrote of my experiences on Capitol Hill. I published this in Remnant Review: “Confessions of a Washington Reject.”
I had a lot to say about why Congress does not function well. I provided this information. This has to do with Administrative Assistants, who run the show. They control who gets in to see the boss.
Who hires the AA? The Congressman. He draws from two possible pools of talent:1. His Campaign Manager. This friendly fellow is noted for his ability to organize precincts, raise money from well-heeled donors, compose fundraising letters, schedule speeches for the candidate, possibly write speeches for the candidate, but certainly screen out controversial ideas from the candidate’s speeches. He can organize an office staff out in Dubuque. He can get those volunteers to lick those stamps. He has won, so now he has an air of total confidence. Then he comes to Washington, where he knows absolutely nothing. He covers his insecurity with arrogance and pseudo-confidence. Outsiders can tell these guys nothing. So nothing is what they get shown. Then they hire the staff, generally out of the bodies left over from the campaign. The ready-made staff gets imported.
2. A Professional Hill Administrator. These guys are the chameleons of life. If you mated these guys with a jellyfish, the only thing you could produce would be a college president. They are noted for their non-ideological professionalism, i.e., lack of commitment to any idea other than survival. They pick and choose from other unemployed Hill professionals, all of whom must be less competent than the AA. The gray sludge of professionalism begins to clog whatever machinery the Congressman had devised to “get things moving around Washington.” If, by some element of good fortune, the new AA is in some way ideological, he is a “Hill ideologue,” meaning one whose principled edges have been filed off by job insecurity, peer pressure, booze, junkets, and the lack of time to read anything more rigorous that the Washington Star. Gerald Ford would have been regarded as an ideological AA.
Let me give you an example of how tight a ship the typical AA runs, as far as screening is concerned. A newly elected Congressman from a conservative Midwest district started out. For openers, he did his initial hiring through the office of House Minority Leader Rhodes, no ideologue. Applicants couldn’t possibly get through this wall of resistance. (Candidates are flooded with applications, and in despair they turn the screening over to [probably] the campaign manager. So most of the staff is already hired when he arrives in Washington. He has no idea of what committee assignments he will get, or how much work needs to be done, or what kinds of skilled workers are needed. But he keeps on hiring.) The next stage was when he hit Washington–or, more accurately, brushed by Washington. He hired a “professional” AA, a mildly liberal (gray sludge) Jewish gentleman. The Congressman, predictably, is a Christian fundamentalist. This follows the usual rules of Congress: the liberals staff their offices with liberals and moderates, and the conservatives staff their offices with moderates and idiots. So an old friend of the Congressman, a nationally known and influential conservative, called him to tell him that I was available as a staffer. (A man mired in the bog sometimes will stay in the bog if the ground nearby looks a bit more firm.) Fine, he said, have him apply. His secretary called me to set up an appointment. Unfortunately, the Congressman spent only two days a week in Washington; the other five were spent back in the district. You couldn’t get an appointment. So I called his office, and of course was connected to the AA. “All candidates for employment are interviewed by me first,” he announced. Naturally. I explained that his boss had called me directly. I wanted my appointment. That threw him. I was told when the Congressman might be in his office. I drove in. He had left, of course. This was the week before the House convened. “We do not need any research people right now,” the AA explained. “Congress doesn’t begin until next week.” I called a contact of mine and asked him how many bills were scheduled for introduction during the first week. “Oh, about 1,800,” he replied. But our new Congressman did not need any research staff the week before. So I gave a copy of my Christian Economics book, autographed, plus a copy of my vita. The AA took them. The Congressman never called back. About a month later, after I had joined the program at Ruff Times as a consultant, I happened to call my friend, the Congressman’s friend. “Why didn’t he ever call me?” I asked. “That’s funny,” came the reply. “He asked me why you never came in for an interview. He asked his AA if you had come in, and the AA told him he had never heard of you.”
This is normal on Capitol Hill. The Congressmen barely run their own offices, and the newer they are, the more dependent they are on the “professional” AA. The bureaucratization of the staffs is continual. The people back home who gave money to elect the guy, who slaved to work for him, and who now think their work is at last over, with their reward sure, now watch in horror and disbelief as his voting record sinks slowly into the sludge. They wonder how it happened. “That’s politics,” they say to themselves. Not quite; that’s bureaucracy that has met no political resistance from the folks back home. The folks back home need to stay organized to pressure “their” man, forever. They seldom do.
The Congressman was Dan Quayle. The intermediary was M. Stanton Evans, one of the most influential writers in the history of American conservatism, 1960-1980. He is still writing.
I don’t know what happened to the gray sludge guy. When Quayle was a Senator, his AA was Bill Kristol. He was ideological: neoconservative. I would not have survived in his administration.