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An Effective Congress and Effective Members: What Does it Take?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2013

Barbara Sinclair
Affiliation:
University of California, Los Angeles

Extract

What are the skills needed to serve effectively in Congress and how do politicians acquire them? Learning to be a member of Congress is unlike learning to be a plumber or a brain surgeon; there is no prescribed course of study and no certification process. The criteria by which we judge whether a brain surgeon or a plumber is good at his or her job are relatively clear and uncontroversial; there is less consensus about what constitutes doing a good job as a member of Congress. Thus, the question that begins this essay cannot be answered simply and directly.

The question can be approached by examining the job of Congress, how Congress has organized itself to do its job and then considering the skills members need to function effectively in that environment. First, however, we must decide what we mean by effectiveness. Members can be considered to function effectively when their behavior furthers their individual objectives. Alternatively, effectiveness can be defined relative to the objectives of the institution, and members can be considered to function effectively when their behavior furthers the Congress's capacity to do its job well. These two different ways of defining effectiveness lead to another important question: are the skills needed to get to, remain in, and get ahead in Congress the same ones needed to make Congress institutionally effective?

Type
Vote For Me: Politics in America
Copyright
Copyright © The American Political Science Association 1996

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References

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