Bloomberg Businessweek’s Tim Murphy spent two days in late March observing the behavior of elected officials on the floors of the House and Senate. In a graphic piece — a portion of which we show you below — he describes, with insight from Daily Kos, Wonkette and the Hoover Institution, that a member of Congress’s off-camera activities say as much about their character as their policy positions. The stats: 24 % are “Power Blackberryers,” 20% are “Schmoozers,” 15% are “Sustained Touchers,” 5% are “Eaters.”
We chatted more extensively with Murphy about his story yesterday afternoon via email as he is now living in France. “I am either lucky or too much of an easily-bored dilettante to have one beat,” he explained when asked what he covers. “I write everything from serious stories about gay issues and HIV/AIDS to celeb profiles to travel pieces for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Details, OUT Magazine, Poz Magazine, etc.
1. Where are you in France and what are you doing there? I’m a longtime New Yorker but I am living and working from Paris for the next few months with my boyfriend, the illustrator Damien Cuypers, who is French. But at this very moment I’m in Lyon, which I highly recommend to anyone who’s already been to Paris. It’s beautiful and charming and Frencher-than-French but it’s cheaper and more manageable than Paris–and it’s warmer, literally and figuratively. If Paris is New York, Lyon is San Francisco.
2. How and why did you get the idea to write this piece, by watching C-SPAN by any chance? I have been doing these BusinessWeek pieces for the past year or so where I watch people in very banal, everyday settings, like power lunching or early-morning gym or commuter trains and then I get behavioral experts to analyze what I saw. We’re always trying to think of new ones and someone at BizWeek suggested just sitting in the galleries of the House and Senate for a few afternoons and watching the floor. So I just sat there with the tourists a few weeks ago and watched.
3. Lawmakers are pretty goofy, fun characters, right? What was your impression? No, actually their behavior on the floor–and that of their staffers–is incredibly contained and bland. They are being watched constantly by the galleries and by C-SPAN, they are not going to do anything too wacky. That’s why Barbara Boxer really stood out to me–she was a real fireplug, bustling here and there, getting up in people’s faces, wagging her finger. She was working it!
4. What was left on the cutting room floor? Kirsten Gillibrand was very sort of withdrawn and shy. She didn’t really say hi to her Senate colleagues when she passed them and I noticed that when the senior Dem Senate ladies were all clustering, Kirsten sort of stood awkwardly on the periphery like Jan Brady. Kos insists she is going to run for president in 2016. Also I know that she is sort of past the point of relevance in the Senate, but I was sort of mesmerized by Kay Bailey Hutchinson–she is the best-coiffed gal in the Senate since Hillary left. Honestly with the House, I barely knew who anyone was. It’s like 99 percent old white men. Not a very inspiring American rainbow.
5. The graphic was jam-packed with detail. But I couldn’t help feeling like I was left wanting more observations. What was your reaction? I felt the same way as you. I watched for two afternoons straight. It’s a very boring place most of the time. It’s very often nearly empty. It only gets interesting when all the pols come to the floor to vote, and even then it’s frustrating because they talk in low voices so the peons like me in the galleries can barely hear them. It’s kind of like ice-fishing, you probably have to sit there for hours on end to catch a tiny little fish. That’s how I felt, anyway.