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Study: Lawmakers Now Spend Most Of Their Time Just Taunting One Another


First Posted: 04/07/11 12:44 PM ET Updated: 06/07/11 06:12 AM ET

So, what do your beloved Congresscritters spend the bulk of their time in Washington, DC doing? Mostly they have cuddle parties with lobbyists, or, if you've got the exquisite sense of timing of Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), you're taking a "boutique shopping trip" to the brutalist wonderland of Crystal City, Virginia. But outside of that, they basically spend their days and nights straight up "doin' the dozens" on one another, in press releases. This is according to new research from Harvard, an important university.

Now, a Harvard University professor has analyzed [Congress members'] behavior, using computers to look for trends in members' writings. And he's learned something that might help explain why Congress is having such trouble working out a deal this week.

He learned, to his amazement, that modern members of Congress spend about 27 percent of the time just taunting each other.

"It's jarring and surprising," said Prof. Gary King, an expert in using computers to find patterns in large amounts of data. And, King said, probably counterproductive if we want Congress's members to trust one another enough to make deals.

Just 27 percent of the time? That is jarring and surprising, actually.

Apparently, over the years, King and his students had developed a "Grand Unified Theory of Congressmen" that found that legislators basically express themselves in three ways: "credit-claiming," "position-taking" and "advertising." But over time, a new category of communication has emerged:

"They're a different thing. To say that the only thing members of Congress do is advertising, credit-claiming or position-taking, that's not right," King said. "Because sometimes, they just stand up there and taunt the other side."

Of course, it's not like your lawmakers are proving themselves to be the second coming of Dorothy Parker or anything. Apparently, when Senate Speaker Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says something like, "Republicans have shown they couldn't care less about those who have the least," or House Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) says, "Democrats have not displayed the same interest in listening to the American people," these qualify as taunts. So, if you're of the opinion that only people like Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) are actually intermittently good at taunting, you're still basically right.

Here's another hilarious finding: "[King] found taunting was most common in members whose districts were 'safe.'" So, yeah, it's not like the rise of taunting has come about because of some sudden spike in political courage.

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