Today's New York Times takes up something I've been pointing out for a while, the fact that many of the newly elected Tea Partiers have no experience in elected office:
But his perseverance intersected with incumbent disenchantment and now Mr. Schilling, who owns a pizza restaurant, is among roughly 35 incoming members of the House — and four new senators — who have never been elected to anything. "I'm a story that never should have happened," said Mr. Schilling, 46, soon to represent a giant squiggle of west Illinois.
The new class of lawmakers will contain the highest number of members with no experience of elective office in decades, likely since 1948, when there were 44 such House members elected, according to Gary C. Jacobson, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and probably above 1952, when there were 34 such members. In 1994, the last big citizen revolution led by Republicans, there were 30 political-novice House members elected.
The people who voted for them probably think these novices will bring a fresh new perspective to Washington, but the truth is that their inexperience probably means that almost all of them will never be heard from again. The Times poses the standard question: Will they change Washington, or will Washington change them? The answer is that individually they may or may not be changed by the capital, but they will almost certainly not change it.
Even for people who know what they're doing, it isn't easy to become influential in Congress. How many of the body's members really have an impact? Let's be generous and say there are 100 members of the House who make a difference (every senator matters, unfortunately). Some are in their party's leadership, some are chairs of committees and subcommittees, and a few manage to carve out other ways to be important, such as by becoming media stars. That leaves 335 members who go about their business -- serving on committees, casting votes, trying to help their constituents, occasionally crafting a minor bill or two -- without much being noticed. There are lots and lots of lawmakers whom you've never heard of.
While one or two of these newly elected non-politicians might break out and prove themselves to be exceptionally skilled at legislating, the rest of them will be quickly forgotten. And their 2010 campaigns, in which they assured voters that if elected they would "shake up the system" and "change the way they do business in Washington," will seem like a joke.
-- Paul Waldman