I have a distinct childhood memory of visiting the office of the congressman whose district included my hometown. I can’t remember why I visited. A school project or a merit badge or something. Anyway, his office was in a medium-rise glass cube of a building that I always thought looked incredibly hip. The congressman was not in at the time, but his assistant said, “Would you like to sit in his chair?” It was a black, high-backed leather chair that swiveled around so he could look out the office window at a wide swath of his district. And of course I said, “Sure!”
But this bird’s-eye view of the democratically represented masses brought a sense of seclusion. After all, Wikipedia, how many people live in the United States? Around 316 million? And there are 435 representatives that serve in the House of Representatives. Doing the math, that means about 0.0000014 percent of us are currently members of the United States House of Representatives. I wonder what that percentage would be for plumbers, teachers, IT folks, consultants or Walmart cashiers. I’m just saying. There aren’t very many people who know what the job of representing the rest of us in Washington is really like.
Like many, I’ve been ruminating upon the results of our most recent national elections, trying like hell to figure out how the United States is going to change over the course of the next four years. I wonder about Supreme Court appointments and Obamacare and all the divisive hot-button issues. And on a more critical-yet-macro level, I wonder how the character of the country is going to change. But shy of obtaining a time machine, I, and all Americans, have no choice except to wait and see.
I did the second-best thing to obtaining a time machine, though: I reached out to Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) to ask for an interview. He was kind enough to oblige, recently giving me an hour of his time at his office here in Chattanooga.
Well-stained wood paneling. Huge, 360-degree bookshelves lined with thick, neatly arranged books about the law. Perfect lighting. A big desk, shipshapely organized. And a congressional seal, huge, on the wall behind the desk. Once, a counselor friend of mine told me that the feeling one gets upon entering another’s privately managed space is a clue about how that particular person feels about him/herself and his/her place in the world. If that’s the case, then my immediate impression of Fleischmann was that of a person who values the oft-unrecognized yet inherent dignity that resides, or perhaps should reside, in the authority of his position.
Now, certainly one could say that, because Chuck Fleischmann is a politician, the arrangement of his office might be smoke and mirrors designed to impress campaign donors and any rank-and-file voters who might visit. His space is certainly impressive. And I think it’s true that politicians, of all people, are never not communicating something about themselves and their agendas. Even by the arrangement of their books and office furniture.
But whether you or I or anybody else disagrees with Fleischmann’s feng shui, not to mention any actual political position, what became clear shortly into our conversation was that his positions were not arrived at without careful consideration. They’re planted in an intimate knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and the legal precedent that’s flowed from it since the founding of the country. One may be able to argue with Fleischmann’s interpretation of the Constitution. Fair enough. But one would have a hard time arguing successfully that his positions were not realized without thoughtful examinations of his own values within a constitutional context. Or, to put it plainly, he knows a lot about himself and a lot about the Constitution. Not only what’s in the Constitution, but the hows and whys of what’s in it. And it’s not simply an “I’ve done my homework” kind of thing. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say this: Fleischmann is fascinated by the law and how it is supposed to work in a democratic republic. Which is good news for the electorate. Republican or Democrat, who wouldn’t want a knowledgeable, deeply invested legislator?
It’s true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I walked out of our interview with the impression that Fleischmann is smart, invested, traditionally conservative and good at giving good first impressions. By the way, that last trait is not intended to have a smarmy undertone, though it could be read that way, I suppose. All I mean is that he was more than prepared to answer my questions (clearly he’d done this before) and treated me-a rinky-dink journalist-as if I were from The Washington Post.
At any rate, I look forward to sharing with you the rest of my interview with Fleischmann. This is part one, of course. Part two, in a couple weeks, will mostly deal with Fleischmann’s take on the tasks the new president-elect has already given, or will give, to members of Congress.
Next up: “My Interview with Chuck Fleischmann (Part 2: On the Topic of President-Elect Donald Trump).”
Paul Luikart is a writer whose work has appeared in a number of places over the years. His most recent book, “Animal Heart,” is available now from Hyperborea Publishing. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.