I knew a woman once whose problem was her beauty. She said women envied her, men lusted after her and employers never took her seriously. I believed her until I mentioned her plight at a dinner party. The men nodded in sympathy, but the women indicated they disagreed. They threw their silverware at me.
It must have been in the same spirit that Washington Dossier, a slick monthly of no consequence, asked members of Congress for some personal information, including their bad habits. What the magazine got in response was similar to the complaint of the lady who said that God had cursed her with beauty. Congressman after congressman confessed to working too hard.
Alphabetically speaking, Michael Barnes (D-Md.) was the first to fess up. He admitted to "compulsive neatness and punctuality." Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) said he spent "too much time on the road, working." James Jones (D-Okla.) confessed that he spent "too much time at work," and Norman Mineta (D- Calif.) was forthright enough to say that he just couldn't stay away from the desk. "Workaholism," he called it.
These confessions are of a type. They are like those in which people admit to being too good or too generous or too sensitive. Confessions of this sort are usually preceded by the words, "I just can't help myself but," and then comes the admission of some supposed shortcoming that is not a shortcoming at all -- and probably isn't true, either. With the possible exception of someone complaining about how wealth has complicated his life, nothing quite so grates on the ear.
Where is the congressman whose bad habit is goofing off? Where is the brave soul who is bored? Where is the man who chases women, the woman who chases men, the ones who daydream or whose worst habit is a craven fear of any interest group with a postage meter? Where's the guy who just can't turn down a contribution, the one who doesn't know how to say no to a speech invitation, the one who admits to throwing principle out the window should the president call on the phone?
No one like that in our Congress. Instead, we have the most conscientious and noncontroversial politicians the world has ever seen. Take James Slattery, Democrat of Kansas. According to Dossier, his political rating is 50 percent liberal, 50 percent conservative. His best friend is his wife. His heroes are Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Kennedy. A favorite movie is "Chariots of Fire," and his favorite book is the Bible.
Slattery's favorite clothing store is in Kansas. One of his favorite television shows is the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour." He prefers to vacation in his home state (he's just corny about Kansas in August), and his wife-cum- best friend is a full-time mother "active in civic organizations and Bible studies." His ultimate ambition is, "To be a good husband and father and the best congressman I can be . . ." and, like his colleagues, he too has bad habits. They are "being late and trying to do too many things." I suggest therapy.
The survey goes on. Rep. E (Kika) de la Garza (D-Tex.) says his favorite films are Eddie Albert movies. Rep. John Dingell (D- Mich.) says his is "Robin Hood," and James Howard (D-N.J.), chest surely swollen in pride, said his greatest achievement was "passage of the 55 mph national speed limit." Many a congressman says his best friend is his wife, which in some cases is probably true, in some cases is nothing of the sort, and in any case has nothing to do with intimacy and everything to do with efficiency. It means you only have to lie to one person.
The most common ultimate ambition is to be just a darn good member of Congress. There are some exceptions. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) says he wants to be president; Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) says he wants to be chairman of the Federal Reserve System; and Mel Levine (D-Calif.), at age 42, says he still wants to play first base for the L.A. Dodgers. Only Levine has a chance.
All in all, Dossier's profiles of Congress makes for depressing reading. Gone, for the most part, are the personalities, the characters -- the men or women who could admit to some really bad habits. Now many congressmen take an attribute and try to make you think it's a liability. They deserve what I got when I believed that beauty could be an affliction. Ladies, get ready.