“For a certain kind of person, D.C. is celebrity-sighting heaven; unlike Los Angeles, Washington proper is quite compact, so its famous-person population density is high. Within days of my arrival, I was having sightings. That person in front of me in line at the coffee shop—didn’t I see her out of the corner of my eye on MSNBC at 2:00 p.m. the other day? Huge! That guy walking out of the restaurant near my apartment—isn’t he a congressman from Kansas or something? Mega! And whenever I spotted famous people I could actually name (Ben Bernanke enjoying lunch at Le Pain Quotidien was a good one; so was Paul Ryan striding through the lobby of my office building), I would quickly send a text message to an uncle who cares about this sort of thing.”— Ethan Epstein, “Boris in the Flesh,” The Weekly Standard, Nov. 2, 2015
The image accompanying this post, of course, is of Congressman Ryan, whose lean look, sculpted by an extensive workout regimen, makes him rather more camera-ready than your average Capitol Hill denizen.
But what seems to have eluded Mr. Epstein is the power factor associated with the glamor exuded by DC figures. Ryan could work out like a decathlon competitor, but had he not been a Vice-Presidential candidate, House Ways and Means Committee Chair, and now Speaker of the House, nobody would care.
Case in point: one of his predecessors in his latest office, Newt Gingrich. After Gingrich masterminded the GOP midterm tidal wave of 1994, he seemed to be followed everywhere—by the media, by party functionaries latching on to the Next Big Thing, and even—surprisingly enough, for a man who had not yet grasped the value of a diet—women. His first and second marriages both foundered over his adulterous affairs. (His affair with his third wife was still going strong at the height of the Clinton impeachment proceedings.)
But once Gingrich, fearing the wrath of the GOP rank and file for leading them to disaster four years later, resigned as Speaker and from the House itself, that electricity was lost overnight. Someone told me a few years later that he had been seen walking into a Manhattan publishing house, not only without a full entourage but without anyone accompanying him.
He had to have suffered a fate not unlike Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard—confused and driven mad by lack of attention. That is the only real reason why he would have chosen to run for President in 2012, when the country--and even the GOP electorate he had once led--had changed drastically.