The Real Poop
It's been said that you don't want to see how two things are made: hot dogs and laws. Pig processing and politics can both get pretty messy. But if you can't think of a better way to spend your life, you can tie on an apron and start chopping—or you can roll up your sleeves and start campaigning.
If you have a burning ambition to help your country grow and thrive by maneuvering through the complex American legal system, you may be one of a very select group of men and women elected to the United States Senate.
The requirements for the job (you've been a U.S. citizen for the past nine years and you're at least thirty years old) and the compensation ($174,000 per year) are straightforward—so straightforward, in fact, that the only time either one changes is when you actually vote to change it (source).
More elusive is the magic blend of personality, motivation, background, and skills needed to serve in such an honorable position. You're part leader, part negotiator, and part reality TV star—not unlike a contestant on Survivor. Except you're making decisions that affect over 300 million people.
That incredible responsibility can—and should—be humbling, but the power involved can be intoxicating. Unlike private sector jobs, a senator must earn the most votes in his or her state, and once elected must balance thousands of conflicting interests and principles. And that includes the senator's own interests.
You may think a government-funded chocolate waterslide in your state may be a good way to use taxpayer money, but once you make that decision, you'll definitely have to own it come re-election day.
And who knows? In this glorified popularity contest, you might actually get more votes for an idea like that. At least it's a new solution...we guess.
You'll also have a long time between elections to build a solid résumé. Unlike the House of Representatives, where all 435 seats are up for grabs every two years, you get a whopping six years to make good on the promises you gave the voters of your state—or for them to forget you made said promises (source).
That's two years longer than most people spend in high school. And depending on how much the people of your state like what you did, you may be given another six years, and another six years, until something (you, your spouse, the voters, the Grim Reaper) prevents you from winning re-election again.
One of those potential reasons would be because you land a better job holding an even higher office. Since the founding of the nation, over one-third of American presidents and half of vice presidents were senators first. These champions of the legislature don't only represent their home states in the faraway land of Washington, D.C., they also hold the reins of power and help shape American history.
While congresspersons are a diverse bunch in just about every way, there are many similarities between them. For starters, they're all American—because the law says they have to be. They also all have college degrees, even though that's not required by law. Most senators have law degrees (source). Others are doctors, soldiers, public sector workers, or business people; there have even been astronauts, a basketball player, an actor, and a comedian (source).
Other past and current legislators "come up through the chairs," as they say in Congress (it's a strange place). These are the folks who've been in public life throughout the early stages of their careers. Some people catch the political bug on their school boards, chambers of commerce, or in their volunteer or charitable organizations.
Some arrive quickly after a sudden, life-changing catastrophe that impels them to action. Many come from minority or low-income populations and have a mission to bring justice to their communities and beyond.
And some people just want to tell other people what to do.
If you want to see what this is all about, take a glance at the Senate floor in action on C-SPAN. Can you smell the excitement? Can you hear the gears of history grinding? Probably not. For a place where people go to do nothing but make decisions, they sure make it look like nothing's going on.
Even though senators are required to be physically present for votes, they're busy in their offices, in the hallways, meeting rooms, and even the cafeteria.
If a vote is scheduled, it'll be on your calendar. If not, you'll have a short break to "walk and talk" your way to the Senate floor to cast your vote. Go ahead, take your time—you're only keeping America waiting.
Senators don't exactly live normal lives.
They work extraordinary hours, sometimes sleeping in their offices to get their chosen ideas discussed and voted on. They have to run two households and two offices—one in their home state and one in D.C. (though on the bright side, they at least get a bit of time to read on the plane). They have to continually impress millions of people and get those people out to the polls every six years.
On top of that, there are only 100 available positions, only two of which are in your state, so the odds of getting the job aren't great. But if you're a real politician, you make your own odds.
After all, you're not driven by things like facts or numbers. You're driven to make positive changes for the 300-plus million citizens of the United States.
You're trying to be a U.S. Senator—you only care what the people think.
Well, the ones willing to vote for you anyway.