January 17, 2011

The Hairshirts

This is the picture I was studying the night before Rep. Giffords was shot and Congress delayed its start. The photo shows Congressman Chaffetz making up the cot he uses in his House office, the space doubling as his bedroom.

In what reads on first pass like an amusing if offbeat “new session” backgrounder, the NYT predicted that up to a dozen incoming Congressmen will likely join another 40-ish House members currently living out of their offices. Leaving aside those men who simply live like boys, many members quoted in the article spoke of “frugality” as a rationale, there being a distinct tone — particularly among the influx of far-right conservative and Tea Party members — of a hyper-austere or self-abnegating mentality.

With the Giffords shooting having not just blunted, but fully extinguished the coverage of the Tea Party wave and the wider political polarization, I’m even more curious now to see how the tension between the ascetic Tea Party folks and the GOP’s country club leadership and larger membership plays out.  In the meantime, this frugality — to the extent it reflects rigid ideological intentions (“lights out, Washington!”) — feels like a warning that a fundamentalist wave (since I’m toning down the rhetoric, I’m leaving the Taliban analogy out of this) is nesting itself inside the Capitol.

For House Members Looking to Save Money, a Day at the Office Never Ends (NYT)
(photo: Drew Angerer/The New York Times. caption: Representative Jason Chaffetz is among the House members who plan to bunk in their office.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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