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Desperate for a Reprieve From Capitol Punishment

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"You see 'hate' thrown around a lot," he says. " 'I hate George Bush.' 'I hate Hillary Clinton.' 'I hate Barack Obama.' I work for Joe Lieberman, who's one of my best friends, and I admire George Bush as an old friend from college and it mystifies people. I've been called the most ugly words by fellow liberals. Nobody can have a disagreement without hate words."

Then there are the hours. With congressional oversight on amphetamines and an expanded work schedule introduced by the new Democratic leadership in Congress, Senate and House members and their staffs have seen their workload mushroom. Forget about the Tuesday-to-Thursday-then-home-in-your-state-by-Friday weeks.

"The Iraqi parliament is taking a month off," says Sarah Feinberg, communications director for the House Democratic Caucus. "And there's frustration and anguish here because we're working day in and day out and they're taking a vacation."

There was something to be said for the old ways, says Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), when there was more balance between the time spent in the District and back at home. Time away from Washington gave members a chance to speak to Rotarians and teachers, to take the political temperature of the men and women they represent. Plus, it won points with the spouse.

"You're not able to tell your family when you're going to be home," Kingston says. "Your wife will ask when and you say, 'I don't know.' Then she'll ask why and you just don't have a reason."

"Are you married?" he asks a reporter. "If you're going to be married and you think you'll be home at 6, tell her 7," Kingston says. "Because if you tell her 6 and you're home by 6:10, you're going to be in big trouble."

Add to the stress of the late hours a hyperactive constituency: The women of Code Pink ready to harangue Democratic members at every turn. Left-leaning youngsters primed to capture politicians in embarrassing moments on video phones for a couple of days of YouTube glory.

"You're never off," Dingell says. "You cannot make a mistake. You have to be perfect. I just want to be home, somewhere with people who know you, love you, aren't trying to get you, even though you have to remember someone's always trying to get you."

Those seeking solace at the state fair best heed Dingell's words. After all, it was just last August when then-Sen. George Allen, at a campaign stop in Breaks, Va., twice used a slur to refer to an Indian American volunteer for Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb. Maybe he should have had a drink at the Palm.


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