The Washington Post

The C word: Congress

Two people, doing the Unmentionable. (Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

It has always been impolite to talk about engaging in Congress. But now it’s a liability.

Consultants to people running for office have come up with unusual advice: avoid the C-word, at all costs.

Whatever you do, don’t say “Congress.”

The Post’s Rosalind Helderman reported:

“The result is that consultants and strategists who run congressional campaigns appear to be employing some artful ad copy to avoid mentioning that their candidates are members of Congress. ‘They don’t use their title. They don’t refer to their years of service. They don’t show pictures of themselves in committee meetings,’ said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan congressional analyst, explaining the incumbent-as-outsider strategy. ‘They have to acknowledge the anger, the frustration. They’ve got to run as agents of change,’ he said.”

It makes sense.

Everyone cheered when Congress’s approval rating had hit 17 percent. To put things in perspective, that is just a shade more popular than herpes.

When the popularity of your line of work compares unfavorably with that of Nixon during Watergate, it seems reasonable to avoid saying the name. But this makes it awkward when election season comes around.

Something is clearly awry when mentioning the name of the job in your application is considered a professional hazard. It’s the elephant in the room, joining Macbeth, Lord Voldemort and texting on the toilet in the pantheon of things you can allow to happen but never want to bring up in conversation.

In most lines of work, “Don’t bring up the fact that you have any experience doing the job” would be terrible, awful advice. Here it’s routine.

What if other professions were like this?

“Medicine is broken,” a doctor would say, “I do many things, but first, I’m a father. I would like to fix your broken arm.”

“I hate spending time in coal mines,” a coal miner would inform you, smiling into the camera. “Iowa’s the best!”

“I’m here to audition for the role of the, er, Scottish King in the Scottish Play,” actors would mumble.


“No, the other guy. The Out Brief Candle guy.”



(Actually, this already happens.)

“Hey,” Monet would say. “I’m a man’s man. I like to stand in parks holding brushes.”

“Hey,” Michael Phelps would say. “I’ve spent some time in water, but I spend most of my time out of water, enjoying the company of the great people of Baltimore.”

“The only thing I love more than Britain,” the Queen would intone, “is wearing tasteful hats.”

“I enjoy fishing,” Lebron James would say.

This is ridiculous. Sure, gridlock abounds. Sure, there are problems. But is this the chicken or the egg? If your entire campaign is premised on the idea that you don’t want to be associated with the Institution That Shall Not Be Named, no wonder you don’t get anything done when you get there. You are too busy smashing things and cleaning house and sleeping in your desk, as you promised in all those early videos.

If half the ads are to be believed, the candidates can imagine no worse fate than being sent to Washington (a terrible place) and forced to serve in a dysfunctional body whose very name is too poisonous to pass their lips. If they have been there, they have to spend the whole time apologizing for it and insisting that they weren’t. As I watched their ads, I kept wondering what these nice gentlemen who were so fond of Iowa wanted me to do about it. Why are you telling the people of Massachusetts that you’re a great father?

What are you running for, again?

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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