When I first moved to Washington, D.C. I was a junior in college and had just landed an internship at C-SPAN (nerd alert!). On my first visit there a year or two prior, I had liked the city just fine but never imagined I’d live there. However, something interesting happened on my daily commutes to and from the Capitol Hill area during my first few weeks of my internship: I fell in love with Washington, D.C. and I fell hard. Everything about it. It was all so new. So exciting. I had never been much into celebrities, didn’t give a hoot about movie stars or athletes too much, but man, those politicians I ran into left me star struck.
Because of my internship, and other opportunities made available just by being in the city, I was literally rubbing shoulders with First Lady Barbara Bush, shaking hands with former President Jimmy Carter, interviewing Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (I have a fun story about her but I’ll leave that for another day), members of President Bush’s Cabinet, etc.
Here I was, this super introverted girl from Salt Lake City, Utah, whose world was so small and limited at the time, and I was suddenly thrust into the middle of the hub of where our country runs– where the world suddenly looked a little bigger and possibilities seemed endless. I was fascinated. I was enthralled. I was literally giddy to be there. And the longer I was there, the more I started to understand how things worked, and the more interactions I had with all these political movers and shakers, the more enthralled I became. I wanted to drink it all up and soak up every moment of my time there. It was like I was bitten by a political bug.
That “bug” is called Potomac Fever. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Maybe not.
Potomac Fever leads me to my point: Career politicians. They’re sort of a hot topic these days. So many people are so angry about those elected officials who for decades of their lives run the government. The longer they are there, the more intertwined they become with other politicians, lobbyists, big businesses and corporations, etc. And when you’re intertwined with anything other than your constituents, nothing good can happen. Favors are owed, often in the form of votes on bills or “pork” added to bills, etc. I’m sure my understanding of the scope of these types of favors is naive at best. But I know enough to know they exist.
Most elected officials likely start out with pure intents. You’ve probably got leaders in your own area who promised to just run for one or two terms and then they would be done. They claimed to be just as disgusted by career politicians as the rest of us. Then what happened? No surprise. They broke their promise. That same elected official is on his 5th, 6th or 7th term in Congress with no signs of quitting anytime soon. Sound familiar?
Potomac Fever claims victims left and right and politicians are not immune. Not only did that elected official become enthralled with the inner workings of D.C., but they started to realize that new officials don’t have as much power in Congress. They don’t get to be on the cool and powerful committees that the long-time serving members of Congress do, they don’t hold leadership rolls and, essentially, they don’t hold as much power. They get to vote and speak their minds on behalf of their constituents but that’s basically about it. The longer they are in Washington, the more they realize that it’s not enough for them. They want more power.
What they’re failing to realize, and one reason why more and more career politicians are getting voted out of office, is that while their initial power may not be enough for them, it is enough for their constituents. They want their voices to be heard and their Congressman to be that voice. That’s it.
So, what do we do? Do we institute term limits? Some say that term limits are already built in: it’s called an election. And every year they’re on the ballot, you can choose whether to vote for them. If enough people are dissatisfied with them, they won’t be reelected. It’s up to the people whether we send them back to represent us. It’s up to us how many terms we give them. Others, of course, are not satisfied with that answer. People may not always be educated on the candidates when they go to the polls and often just vote for a name that looks familiar. And then that candidate wins, simply because his name was more familiar than the other guy.
So then what? Here are a few ideas that we can all be better at:
-Educate yourself on who is running. Who (and what) will you be voting for come election day? Be familiar with the candidates and the issues.
-Help educate your neighbors on who’s running. Research. Hold gatherings at your home and invite the candidate you stand behind, or one of his/her representatives, to come speak.
-Go a step further and volunteer on a campaign for a candidate you support. Grassroots efforts are the key in campaigns. That used to mean making phone calls and walking door to door dispersing information. Luckily, today, though those things still exist, Social Media has made reaching out to voters in your district a whole lot easier.
-Encourage the right kind of people to run in the first place. Running for office is an intimidating and daunting task to most people, which is why individuals with big egos are usually the ones who have the courage to run in the first place. Seek out those who are like-minded and align with your values and goals and rally behind them.
Otherwise, if we stand idly by and do nothing the next time election day rolls around, it’s likely Potomac Fever will triumph.
Former news reporter and Capitol Hill press guru, wife, mom, and pastry addict.