Congressional Staffers: Just Like Us? Who Knew!

Matt Yglesias calls this article in Politico "the most pointless article ever written," and it would be hard to disagree. I'll save you a click: It's about how a young man who works for a member of Congress decided to make himself a home-cooked pizza last weekend. Yes, that's really what it's about. Is it a parody? It wouldn't be out of place at The Onion, although they would have given it a bit more verve -- perhaps something like, "Local Man Ignores Crushing Meaninglessness of Existence in a Godless Universe, Makes Pizza."

Bear with me here -- I'm going to pull something out of this, just you wait.

This article appears on Politico's "Click" site, which bills itself as "The premier destination for news and gossip on D.C.'s social scene." Here's the thing about gossip, though. To grab our attention, gossip should be about events that are inherently interesting -- a sordid tale of betrayal and murder, say -- or it should be mundane but involve inherently interesting people. Hollywood gossip is fueled by the latter idea. Movie stars are ordinarily presented to us as exaggerated versions of regular humans -- more beautiful, more charming, more capable than we are. People in movies don't clip their toenails, go to the bathroom, sleep, spend eight or 10 hours a day at their jobs, or do any of the things that make up our lives. So seeing those people who are so idealized doing things like yelling at their kids or picking their noses is, to some people, fascinating.

Now, in Washington, what we have is not glamor but power. The problem, though, if you're going to try to be all gossipy about the people engaged in the production and operation of that power is that the contrast between the public self and the private self is of a different nature. Politicians in particular spend a lot of time telling us they're just reg'lar folks. So if you saw one doing something mundane like shopping at the supermarket, it wouldn't be as jarring, and thus as interesting, as if you saw George Clooney doing the same thing. By the same token, "George Clooney In Tryst With Supermodel" is only somewhat noteworthy, because it's expected, whereas "Orrin Hatch In Tryst With Supermodel" would be dynamite.

Which brings us back to that pizza produced by the Congresswoman's staffer. If you're going to put together a gossip sheet, you really have to keep in mind who's inherently interesting and who isn't. The Star might devote a whole article to the fact that Lindsay Lohan made a home-cooked pizza -- I wouldn't find that interesting, though there are certainly people who would. But they're smart enough to know that no one really cares if Lindsay Lohan's publicist made himself a home-cooked pizza.

-- Paul Waldman

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