In December, 1936, Oswald Garrison Villard, longtime liberal editor of The Nation, wrote his friend Representative Maury Maverick ( 1895-1954), of San Antonio, Texas, that he wanted to inform the public of the congressional burdens caused by the New Deal’s economic emphasis. He asked that Maverick’s secretary send him a statistical breakdown of a week in the life of a congressman.
Deeply devoted to his job, the brash and boisterous Maverick had already, in the first of the two terms he would serve, won a national reputation by ignoring the protocol of silence observed by freshmen in the House. He had no patience with hypocrisy or with official language that obfuscated issues, for which he coined the word gobbledygook. He was intensely proud of his colonial heritage, of his grandfather who had signed the Texas Declaration of Independence; and he saw, as his historic mission, the safeguarding of individuals’ rights and the nation’s natural resources. This same grandfather, Samuel Maverick, according to a frequently repeated legend, added a word to the English language when, probably through an oversight of his slaves, he failed to brand a small herd of cattle in his possession. Thereafter, “mavenck” was the common name for an unbranded animal, and in time the word stood for a politician independent of party control. Maury Maverick, both in Congress and in a term as mayor of San Antonio, from 1939 to 1941, lived up to the name.
The secretary’s report indicated that Congressman Maverick received 150 letters and forty callers daily, attended up to six weekly committee meetings, and was often at his desk late into the night. Dunng adjournment, there was some surcease, though the office seekers increased and the phone never stopped ringing. But the secretary ‘s simple listing of statistics didn’t tell of the “pangs and pains” or the “emotional strain” the congressman endures, so Mavenck took pen to paper and did the job himself.—Barbara S. Kraft
In the first place, no one ever talks to a Congressman unless they are either unemployed, angry, or in a state of defeat. The “successful” men have no time to talk to a Congressman, and you receive no visits from your friends, because your office is always packed and jammed with unfortunate people demanding immediate attention. You are constantly besieged to make speeches, and you are supposed to make facetious remarks and tell two or three jokes—generally jokes which are wholly outside of the realm of thought—and then to make a very grave speech, complimenting the group you address.
It is impossible for a Congressman to walk down the street, even with his wife and children, or with his best friends or associates. Leaving the Maverick Building and going to the St. Anthony Hotel, which is only two short blocks, I am frequently stopped as many as ten or twenty times. Each person starts out by saying: “Congressman. Can I see you just a minute?” or “You’re the hardest man to find in town. I’ve been trying to get you for six weeks.” Or similar approaches. In biting cold weather, and already late, it is necessary to listen to a long story which has no point, with a great mass of irrelevant data,—all of which could have been handled as a routine matter by my secretary in the first place.
Point: There is absolutely no time for the average Congressman to study, make research, and improve his mind. His secretarial staff is insufficient for the amount of work. With large numbers of people calling all the time, the telephone ringing incessantly, and work to be done, the physical part of the task, the simple administrative duties, simply weight the Congressman down. It is perfectly natural, therefore, for Congressmen to break under the impact and give up entirely using their own brains.
Second point: Democracy is likely to break down of its own weight. After great hullabaloo, accusations and counter-accusations, a man is elected to office. Then the people prevent him from doing his duty. Strangely enough, in reference to Congressmen, the people have no respect at all for each other. Attempting to talk to one constituent means nothing to another—he will break in and start talking about his own affairs. I know that this is not the plight of the lawyer, businessman, or average citizen who is “prominent”—because before I was in Congress people talked to me one at a time.
Historical psychological background (in deep confidence): In times past, the royalty had a touch of magic. There is no royalty now, and no one to settle a man’s problems. If he is a Catholic, he can go to a priest for confession and, I understand, get some consolation. But if he wants a pension, is out of a job, has been fired, has been given a dishonorable discharge from the Army and wants to get back in, is going to lose his home because he hasn’t paid anything on his HOLC loan since he made it some 12 to 16 months before, or wants a job for a “friend,” or has anything the matter with him at all, the only person who will even speak to him, or whom he can speak to, is the degraded remnant of royalty—the Congressman. Hence, no Congressman can walk down the streets of his home town naturally. He cannot stop at a shop window, because he will be pinched, slapped on the back, or jerked away and asked questions and told views until he gives up in disgust, calls a taxicab, and hides his head so he can get home and get away from it all.
As for Washington, the situation is not quite as bad, but there come all day long cranks of all kinds who have a “plan” to solve the depression, or a fool-proof “pension system,” and most of them are good people who have some hold on you and you have to speak to them. I have an additional burden, and this is true of all Congressmen who are unfortunate enough to have Revolutionary, 1812, Mexican War, and Civil War relatives. Thank God there are no Abolitionists in my family, or I would break under the strain. But there are plenty of others—I think I have you beat by several generations of them.
Then in Washington life, it has a feature which is disgusting. You are invited to a supper, and frequently an important one. It is supposed to start at seven, and it starts at eight. It’s supposed to close at nine, but then everyone makes a speech, it is impossible to get away, and sometimes they last until eleven or twelve o’clock. You go home, having eaten too much, smoked too much, and listened to too much tiresome bull; you sleep too late; get to your office late. You can’t get in on account of the people blocking the door waiting to see you, and you have a mass of correspondence which you probably don’t answer in the morning and which is deferred until that night. You get behind further and further.
When any man makes a speech who has some self-respect, he has to make research. This is almost impossible, and so you send to the Library to get your books. You, of course, cannot read a speech, because Congressmen don’t listen, anyway, which necessitates an extreme familiarity with your subject if you talk without manuscript. The result is frequently slipshod speeches.
I hand you herewith a typical example of correspondence which I received this morning—one of my friends, whom I have known for twenty-five years, suggests that I lack sincerity because I disagree with him on the Supreme Court. I have written him a very sharp letter and have told him to mind his own business—but the customary thing for most Congressmen is to write a letter and say they appreciate the suggestion, and so on.
I can truthfully state the following, of every Congressman: Republican, or Democrat, he works harder than any two businessmen. He is above average, and I do not believe that there is a single Member of Congress who would accept a bribe in money in any sum. He is generally a better representative than his constituents deserve. His health is bad because of his constant application to work, and statistics show that Congressmen die of acute indigestion, heart trouble of various kinds, such as coronary thrombosis, also arterio-sclerosis, and diseases due to improper diet. He really wants to learn, study and apply himself, but conditions of being a modern messenger boy simply make it impossible.
Very truly yours,
Maury Maverick, M.C.