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jennifer loviglio
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Swooning over politics

We go to the nation's capital like other people go to the Vatican City or to Mecca. On our annual pilgrimage last month, we toured the Capitol building and the Library of Congress. In the past we've been to the National Archives, which, along with the Air and Space Museum, is one of our sons' favorite places. But it was in the lobby of our Capitol Hill hotel that I had a near-religious experience.

When we visit government buildings in DC, we don't just tour them. We conduct social-studies-type field trips, talking about everything from the roots of our democracy to how a bill gets through Congress (and is then vetoed by the president). Don't get me wrong: we don't want our sons, ages 10 and 13, to be politicians; we're just hoping for good citizens. Failing that: strong students. Failing that: not mass murderers.

The kids like my husband's contributions: he knows actual historical facts about the great leaders and wars and treaties. I'm just the small-D democracy cheerleader. I try to impart a sense of the Big Ideas that America Is Founded On and the challenges of implementing them in a modern world. Though this topic is not their favorite, I hold their attention using today's hip lingo.

Political junky that I am, it makes sense that I'd be happy to meet a member of Congress in our hotel lobby. I wasn't expecting to swoon, however. Here's what happened: A picture-perfect family - complete with doting grandparents, aunt, and uncle - was sitting near the elevator with a tiny infant girl. I ogled the baby, and we got to talking. First about her baptism that morning and then, suddenly, about politics. The baby's amiable dad, who looked to be in his early 30's, introduced himself as Representative Patrick Murphy, a Democrat from Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

My husband, who had just read a New York Times profile of him, asked Murphy about his two tours in Iraq. I started getting dizzy. An Iraq vet who's also a Democrat? The conversation continued as I gaped, arms hanging lifeless at my sides. The freshman representative had also been a law instructor at West Point. I felt faint. A Fighting Dem with legal chops?

This man was a shimmering vision. Better than a vision - he was a living, breathing embodiment of Good. An uncorrupted newbie with a CV chock full of nothing but service to his country. As if that wasn't enough, as a junior House whip Murphy was heading up the effort to pass the first war budget with timelines (which Bush would later veto). Could this guy be our savior?

I finally got it together long enough to expose myself as a complete idiot, in case there had been any doubt. "Look, kids, a congressman!" I said, pointing to the man sitting three feet away. "He's one of the 435 men and women who represent all Americans."

Upstairs, elated, I paced the room.

"It's not like you met the president," my husband said. "Plus, who knows? He's probably got a few skeletons in his closet."

He was right: why was I so excited? I'd seen people freak out when meeting movie stars and rockers and here I, who'd always kept my cool around celebrities, had just done the same thing. Weirder still: until that moment, I had never even heard of the guy.

Unlike the teeny boppers in Beatles footage and fans crowding stars today, my fandom applies not to a single person or group but, rather, to the political process. Stay with me here. Politicians - especially unpolished young ones who are still idealistic -exude a different kind of fame. It's a willingness to face the tedious, stressful work of running a country, especially in the scrappy House of Representatives. These pols will never be celebrities - though they may try, like the rest of us, to get attention through websites and MySpace pages. They're too busy. And there are too many of them. But for me, they're dreamy.

One last thing bothers me about the encounter. Why now? Why was I so moved now, in the middle of a career that has included interviewing, among other people, White House officials, presidential candidates, and senators?

As a child of Watergate, I don't remember ever having hope. I grew up in a jaded America that was numbed by the shock of back-to-back assassinations. The Kennedys. Martin Luther King. Even Malcolm X's murder shook our home, with its attendant rumors of government involvement. And then Vietnam. And oy, Watergate.

But when my kids started participating in family discussions, I returned to a state of political innocence, like a born-again teen in an abstinence program taking a re-virginity pledge. Some people turn to religion when they procreate; others turn away from cigarettes, fast cars, and fucking swears (only to find it's not always possible). All these steps are affirmations of the possibilities the future holds.

It's totally naïve, I know. Who cares? President Bush and his corrupt cronies have screwed up the country, but so have others before them. And here come these shiny-eyed youngsters with their big ideas and boundless energy. It's enough to give a girl visions.