NEW MEMBERS OF Congress usually get a lot of official advice upon arriving in the capital -- most of it of little use in the real world of lawmaking. Those who are truly serious about accomplishing something might consider the following 10 commandments, which generally advise the opposite of what they will be told:
I. Vote against anything introduced with a "re" in it, especially reforms, reorganizations and recodifications. This usually means going back to something that failed once and is likely to do so again.
II. Do not have a perfect attendance record. Any attendance record above 80 percent is evidence that you have been wasting time answering roll calls and quorum calls.
III. Do not master the rules of procedure. The Senate rules are simple enough to be learned, but they are seldom honored in practice. The House rules are usually applied, but they are too complicated to be mastered. Use the parliamentarian.
IV. Honor seniority. You may have it before you want it. Having a member with seniority assume a position of power makes no reasonable sense, but as G.K. Chesterton said of the practice of having the oldest son of a king succeed his father on the throne, "It saves a lot of trouble."
V. Never trust a staff member who regularly gets to the office before you do and who stays after you leave.
VI. In evaluating your colleagues, remember that politics is much like coaching professional football. Those who are most successful are smart enough to understand the game but not smart enough to lose interest.
VII. Never be the only one, or one of a few, who are right on the issue (like a war) that will not go away. It is difficult to say to fellow members of Congress, "I am sorry I was right. Please forgive me." They won't.
VIII. Do not respond to an appeal to act in the name of "party loyalty."
IX. Remember that the worst accidents occur in the middle of the road.
X. As Ed Lahey, noted reporter for the Chicago Daily News, said to me soon after I came to Congress 30 years ago: "Never trust the press."