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Gene Weingarten: A chat with Joe and Jolene Wonkbucket

WASHINGTON — A recent poll found that a plurality of Americans think we'd be better off today if Congress was selected at random from the phone book. Now, you may share the notion that ordinary people tap into a vast wellspring of civic concern, common-sense judgment and pureness of heart. As a journalist who hears from these ordinary people all the time, I know better. They tap into a vast wellspring of Bud Light. Basically.

I decided to ridicule the poll results by flipping through the phone book and randomly calling Joe and Jolene Lunchbuckets. I would ask them complex questions, with comical results.

Call 1: Remes, Robert

Me: Let's say there's a vote to invoke cloture on a debate over an appropriations bill allocating revenue-sharing funds to municipalities based on the disproportionality of their tax burden as calculated for the previous fiscal year. Would you vote yes?

Robert: Absolutely.

Me: You understood that?

Robert: Sure. I'm a lawyer. I don't like filibusters.

Call 2: Bird, Eugene

Me: Do you think global warming is for real?

Eugene: Actually, I have a daughter who is in Alaska right now, flying over the ice floes toward the North Pole, cataloging how the ice cap is receding. So, yes, I think it's real.

Me: And how much money in campaign contributions would it take to change your opinion?

Eugene: Whatever it takes to get me re-elected. I'm a lobbyist. I understand.

Me: You're a lobbyist?

Eugene: Yes. For Middle East policy. And my son won the Pulitzer Prize for American Prometheus, a book about J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Call 3: Springer, Rebecca

Me: Please prioritize the seven most pressing issues facing the United States in terms of immediacy of need, while weighing moral imperatives against the limitations of current financial realities.

Rebecca: First, repairing the economy, with emphasis on job creation; second, health care reform; third, protecting individuals' civil rights and giving voice to minority opinions; fourth, national security; fifth, the environment; sixth, rebuilding the transportation infrastructure; seventh, a plan to bring people out of poverty.

Me: (Sigh.) What do you do?

Rebecca: Excuse me?

Me: You're a lawyer, right?

Rebecca: Oh. Yes. I thought you asked when I was due. I'm pregnant, but I haven't told my firm yet.

Call 4: Wolkoff, Daniel

Me: Hi. You're a lawyer or a lobbyist, right?

Daniel: I don't even have a degree. I do historic restoration of stained glass.

Me: Hooray! Can you prioritize your political concerns about . . .

Daniel: Sure can. I listen to NPR 20 hours a day! For years, I've been fighting against unjustified American intervention in Central America and the domestic proliferation of nuclear power plants. Now, I'm opposing development plans for a half-acre grove of trees in my neighborhood. Meanwhile, we've just had the Supreme Court undermine any possibility for the electoral process to be remotely fair by giving an overpowering voice to corporations. I think the justices should be impeached. Also, to . . .

Mr. Wolkoff went on for 45 minutes, which gave me time to contemplate what had gone wrong with my plan: Of all the phone books in the country, I chose that of Washington, D.C., world capital of wonkdom.

Still, I might have continued, except for what happened with my fifth call.

I used the same process as I had with all the others: flip through book, open to random page, take knife, blindly stab name. My fifth pick for Joe or Jolene Lunchbucket turned out to be: Weymouth, Katharine. The publisher of the Washington Post. No, I never even dialed.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at [email protected] You can chat with him online at noon Tuesday at

Gene Weingarten: A chat with Joe and Jolene Wonkbucket 02/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2010 4:41pm]
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