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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.)

  • tinwoman

    Appealing to the Calvinist pleasure-denial culture of their base.

  • tinwoman

    but, just to add a point, aren’t they all millionaires anyway, so isn’t this rather silly? It’s not like the money they’re saving is being returned to the government, or am I wrong about that (is there some kind of housing allowance they are turning down)?

  • black dog barking

    So housing is so unaffordable that a significant portion of our elected elite must sleep in their offices? Really? There are millions of vacant homes due to foreclosure and eviction. Surely there’s something affordable for the Congressman in the DC area.

    This looks like a stunt for the camera. Surely he’d at least loosen his tie if he were really getting ready for bed.

  • Books Alive

    Rep. Chaffetz is not a first-termer, and he comes by his frugality by nature, apparently:

    On November 4, 2008, Jason Chaffetz (pronounced “Chay-Fits”) was elected by a 37-point margin to represent Utah’s Third Congressional District. He distinguished himself by building a grass roots campaign organization rooted in principle and with a demonstrated commitment to fiscal discipline.

    To secure the Republican nomination, Mr. Chaffetz unseated a 12-year incumbent by a 20-point margin, and did so with no paid staff, no polling, no free meals for potential voters, no campaign office, and a refusal to go into debt to finance the campaign. Despite being outspent by over $600,000, Mr Chaffetz’s approach to conservative principles resonated with voters and resulted in an unprecedented victory.

    Even distinguished senators share digs: Sen. Dick Durbin shares an apartment with Sen. Chuck Schumer plus two others, for example. I think DC works like a lot of college towns in that people come for a short stay but end up becoming permanent residents.

    • Books Alive

      Meant to say that Rep. Chaffetz lived in his office from 2009 forward. He was quite unapologetic when interviewed and asked about it.

    • Stella

      Thanks for this comment. It helps to be reminded that pictures and assumptions don’t tell the whole story.

  • http://bagnews.com/staff/#mshaw Michael Shaw

    Sorry if I threw anyone off with the more oblique use of the photo. I was aware that Rep. Chaffetz was not a new member (as the NYT only figured out in the postscript to the story). In this case, though, I was primarily playing off the image as a window into the spartan and austere circumstances of living out of the office. A close reading of the article should confirm, however, the different ideological motivations for members, particularly the new members, a larger percentage than usual who are attracted to “bunking in.”

  • momly

    It’s like camp! When do they make s’mores?

    • Brian

      No need! There are s’more flavored poptarts! (in the article, incoming representatives planning on this slumber party are warned to stock up on poptarts & popcorn)

  • janjamm

    Having worked in the Senate offices, I can tell you they are intense and all-consuming. People work for 12 hrs straight many nights. The one thing you MUST do is get out of the office. I can’t imagine working there and then sleeping there witout losing touch with most reality.

    • http://bagnews.com/staff/#mshaw Michael Shaw

      Hey, thanks for the comment.

    • bill

      As another who knows what LOOOONG hours mean, this is just plain (counter-productively) sick. Or else a stunt.

      Also I’d note that there’s a huge difference between having a cot in your office and LIVING in it. Has anyone followed this joker to confirm he literally lives there? Isn’t that kinda’ what real journalists would do?

  • Pragmatic Realist

    I have seen this story many times down through the years. “Young congressman who can’t afford two residences sleeps on the couch in his office.”

    It won’t be long before they figure out how to get the cash flow going and develop a comfortable lifestyle. I don’t feel a bit sorry for them. A lobbyist will soon take them in, or maybe “The Family” will find a spare room in their big house.

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