Growing up in Levittown, I had three dreams: play for the Mets, write novels and be a congressman. Two out of three ain’t bad.
I’m now writing satirical novels on politics (shameless plug: “The Global War on Morris” was published in 2015 and “Big Guns” will be released next April). I also had the extraordinary honor of representing Long Island in Congress for 16 years.
Since leaving, I spend time writing, chairing the Global Institute at LIU and appearing on CNN, among other things. Almost everywhere I go, I’m asked: “Do you miss Washington?”
Here’s what I don’t miss:
– Sitting on the tarmac at Reagan National Airport as the pilot announces a groundstop at LaGuardia, resulting in long delays.
– Rush hour traffic at LaGuardia when I finally land.
– Partisan bickering by members of Congress who believe that their views are absolute moral truths.
-Hypocrisy by members of Congress who condemn an action by one party only to defend the same action by the other. Example: the same Republicans who frothed at President Obama’s vacation now fawn on President Trump’s.
– Sitting in a cubicle for hours at a time making fundraising calls and eating soggy egg rolls at PAC cocktail parties.
– Angry calls from specific areas of the country I never represented. During the frenzy on Obamacare, I was tempted to record this message: “Thank you for calling Congressman Israel’s office. To call me a socialist, press 1. To threaten my life, press 2. For all other calls press 3. To repeat this message in Spanish…”
Here’s what I do miss:
– Helping veterans. My proudest congressional achievement was securing nearly $9 million dollars in retroactive payment for our community’s veterans. I miss delivering those checks and looking into their eyes as they told me their faith in government was restored.
– The quiet collegiality in Congress that you don’t hear about. There’s an exterior balcony right off the House Floor where Democrats and Republicans with different views speak civilly and respectfully about their lives. Congress often resembles an ocean storm: frothy and turbulent on the surface, but much more peaceful the deeper you go.
– The magnificent history of the Capitol. I never pretended to be the smartest member of Congress – though if you listened to some of my colleagues, you’d know that the competition wasn’t that stiff – but I considered myself it’s most passionate student of history. I was often asked to lead VIP tours of the Capitol. My favorite included four players for my beloved Mets, who were in town against the Nationals. I’ve been in the Oval Office with presidents, I’ve met kings, queens and movie stars. But walking around the Capitol with Major League Baseball players was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
– Finally, I’ll miss visiting our troops in dangerous places around the world. In 16 years in Congress I visited Iraq and Afghanistan 13 times. I profoundly believed that if I’d vote to send Americans into dangerous places, I’d better be willing to check on them in those same places.
At the end of long weeks in Washington, I loved coming home to Long Island for my family, the pizza (pizza isn’t pizza in DC) and the people. Now I’m home for good, but that doesn’t mean that politics has completely escaped me.
Believe it or not, the best advice that I received as I contemplated leaving Congress was from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. I don’t agree with Newt on many issues – if any – but we became friendly over the years, bound mostly as fellow writers.
He told me: “The mistake that guys like you and me often make is thinking that you have to be elected in order to make a difference. The fact is that relieved of the burdens of office, you can make an even bigger difference.”
Now, I no longer need to leave Long Island every week to continue making a difference on the issues that I care so deeply about. Now, I can debate issues in the world’s most deliberative democracy: the Long Island diner.
Israel chairs the Global Institute at LIU. His next book, “Big Guns,” will be published in April and can be ordered at www.repsteveisrael.com.