That's politics, Senator Braun

Claude Lewis

January 08, 1993|By Claude Lewis

A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.

0 -- Sam Rayburn, former speaker of the House. WINNING a political race is the easy part.

Surviving a political office is quite another.

That's the lesson that the freshmen members of the 103rd Congress who were sworn in Tuesday will learn quickly.

Even before they raised their hands to take the oath of office, "scandals" surrounding incoming members of Congress began grabbing headlines and stirring talk-show hosts. Among the biggest headline-makers were women, and the criticism of them was premature.

You could read the story under a banner headline in Tuesday's Philadelphia Daily News about a steamy novel written a decade ago by "Pennsylvania's new congresswoman" -- and you might suspect that Rep. Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky was a pornographer. Hardly.

Evidently, like so many others, Ms. Mezvinsky wrote something earlier in her career that she might wish she hadn't. But the fact that she wrote a few books to make a few bucks 10 years ago doesn't matter. So far as I know, there was nothing in the books that reflects poorly on her character.

The News reprinted a few sexy paragraphs from Ms. Mezvinsky's book that were supposed to appeal to prurient interests. But there was nothing there that Ms. Mezvinsky should be sorry about, except for the fact that her first novel wasn't a better seller.

Pennsylvania's only congresswoman defended her work, insisting she wasn't represented in the novel. She described the book's characters as composites of people she has known in the news business. She didn't apologize for her work of 10 years ago, nor should she have.

But Ms. Mezvinsky learned something Tuesday that every new member of Congress should not soon forget: There will be lots of jackasses out there trying to kick the barn down.

And they aren't just kicking the barns of U.S. representatives. In Chicago, the first African-American woman in the Senate learned a lesson in survival before she was sworn in.

"Wake up, Senator," warned the Chicago Tribune in a New Year's Eve editorial. "You've been acting as though you're still mesmerized by the footlights of Broadway. People staked so much on your election -- too much for you to let them down."

The paper then proceeded to excoriate the woman who is often referred to as an outstanding female politician in what was dubbed (last year) "The Year of the Woman."

The Tribune editorialized that instead of going to South Africa for an extended holiday, Ms. Braun should have been preparing for her role in the Senate. The Tribune furthermore criticized her campaign manager (who is also Ms. Braun's lover) as overpaid.

"I've taken care of all my responsibilities," the senator said upon her return. "I've attended all the orientations. . . My staff operation is firming itself up."

Despite the criticism, Ms. Braun was sworn in Tuesday as the first black member since 1978 of the overwhelmingly male U.S. Senate.

She was further criticized for not dealing effectively with anonymous allegations that her manager sexually harassed campaign staff members.

Neither Ms. Braun nor her manager is beyond criticism, but one would think that the Tribune could have waited at least until she was sworn in before it began carping. Other critics might have been a bit more sensitive. They might have waited until Ms. Braun had assumed office before trying to decimate her.

She was criticized for moving into a furnished $3,300-a-month penthouse apartment in an exclusive building along Lake Michigan. That's a joke. Many senators, members of America's most exclusive club, live lavishly. Ms. Braun told reporters two days ago that she wasn't aware she was paying below-market rent for the luxurious apartment.

She might have gone on the offensive by paraphrasing the late congressman Adam Clayton Powell, who, attacked for his lavish lifestyle, said: "I do not do any more than any other member of the Congress, but by the grace of God, I'll not do less!"

Loyola University political scientist Barbara Bardes offered an astute observation concerning Ms. Braun: "Every time she behaves as a real politician, people are going to be disappointed. But she is a politician."

Welcome to politics, 1993-style.

Claude Lewis is a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.