If you have ever visited Capitol Hill, you'll know what I mean when I say,
"They all look like bosses." It's true. Take a walk through the House of
Representatives or Senate office buildings here in Washington, D.C., and you'll find that
it's nearly impossible to tell the elected lawmakers from the thousands of corporate
lobbyists who are chasing them around. Turn on C-SPAN and see if you can tell them apart.
If you want to give it a try, you can buy one of the congressional
directories that lists the basic information about our lawmakers. Some of the $5 versions
come with photographs that can help you identify who they are as you're cruising around
Capitol Hill. These directories list all kinds of background information, such as their
party, home state and congressional district, what colleges they claim to have graduated
from, religion, marriage status, and occupation. Oh yes, occupation. The most most
overlooked aspect of who is serving in Congress.
LAWYERS, BOSSES ... OR WHAT?
What did these folks do before they figured out a way to get elected to
Congress? What kinds of jobs and careers did they come from? Are they all lawyers? Or
bosses? Or what?
Well, take a look at the table below,
which shows the Senate and House of Representatives by political party and by occupation.
Perhaps you are now convinced, like I am, that only a handful of ordinary
people are serving in Congress. You are correct. It's not just the way they dress. It's a
fact: The vast majority of our federal elected leaders come from careers and backgrounds
that are remote from the average working person. I guarantee you, none of these people
live in my apartment complex. As my wife (and Labor Party member) Nancy McFadden commented
after helping me compile this information, Ugh! No wonder they act the way they do!
NO WONDER THEY
ACT THE WAY THEY DO!
It's also not surprising that such a high percentage of these folks are
lawyers and bosses of various types. After all, it almost always takes a lot of money to
win an election. The Center for Responsive Politics did an analysis of the 1996 elections
that showed that money is pretty much how you get there: Nine out of every 10 candidates
for U.S. House of Representatives who spent more than their opponents did in 1996 ended up
winning the election. No candidate who was outspent by more than 5-1 managed to win.
AHHH ... ONE OF OURS?
You may have noticed the single Labor Union Official listed at the bottom
of the Democrat column. When you saw that one, you probably said to yourself, At least we
have one in Congress! That's none other than California Democrat Esteban E. Torres, who
has represented his East Los Angeles district since 1982. A former auto worker and United
Auto Workers official, Torres is most recently remembered for his decision to vote for the
job-killing North American Free Trade Agreement, after President Clinton promised him that
he would set up a federally financed development bank. Four years later, the bank is
barely off the ground, and Torres has announced his retirement.
There's a lesson here. Even when we elect one of our own, it's no
guarantee that they'll remember where they came from. Without a real political party
structure with a big and organized base to hold people to account, this is the result. So
take another look at these lists. Think about what it would take to start filling up
Congress with large numbers of regular working people and trade unionists.
Then make a list of your co-workers that you will ask to join the Labor Party. Maybe make
a motion at your next union meeting that your local affiliate with the Labor Party. We
have a long way to go, brothers and sisters. Let's get going.
Note on source: The information below was compiled from
several publications produced by Congressional Quarterly in early 1997. Numbers reflect
the incoming 105th Congress. Any member of Congress who claimed to be a lawyer was counted
as a lawyer, regardless of other occupations listed. Many members of Congress list several
occupations, but in each case we tried to determine their primary field of employment
prior to getting elected.
|What Did U.S.
For a Living Before
They Were Elected?
|U.S. House of Representatives
|Lawyer - 76
||Lawyer - 83
||Lawyer - 26
||Lawyer - 27
boss - 44
professor - 34
boss - 5
politician - 5
politician - 19
politician - 21
|Banker - 4
professor - 4
professor - 19
boss - 18
|Farmer - 4
boss - 3
|Real estate - 15
P.R. - 8
|News media - 4
||Real estate - 2
|Insurance - 11
||Farmer - 6
politician - 3
|Astronaut - 1
P.R. - 8
insurance - 5
|Real estate - 2
||Insurance - 1
dentist - 8
enforcement - 5
|Accountant - 1
|Farmer - 6
||Accountant - 4
||Physician - 1
worker - 1
|Engineer - 4
||Banker - 3
professor - 1
|Banker - 3
employee - 3
|Military - 1
entertainer - 3
|Social worker - 2
||Veterinarian - 1
|CIA/FBI agent - 3
||Law clerk - 2
||Accountant - 1
director - 2
activist - 2
|Clergy - 1
|Lobbyist - 2
||Salesperson - 1
|Social worker - 1
employee - 1
|Clergy - 1
|Economist - 1
||Librarian - 1
casino manager - 1
|Stockbroker - 1
||Architect - 1
|Physician - 1
official - 1
|Educator/filmmaker - 1
Chris Townsend is Political Action Director of the
United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).