Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Life With the Accidental Senator

Anybody with any memory of their first days on the Hilltop knows how tough it is to adjust to a new school. But I have no sympathy for Peter Barrasso (COL ’10), who is just two months removed from that awkward transition.

See, Peter brings a few cards to those endless introductions and New Student Orientation icebreakers that few others can boast. Like the transfer student card. Peter spent his freshman year at Colby College in Maine.

Or the Wyoming card. Peter hails from Casper. That’s a rarity at an East Coast school. (Or anywhere, really – the average housing development has more people than Wyoming.)

And then, if a conversation really goes south, he can always pull the “Over the summer, I became a senator’s son overnight” card.

That’s right. In June, three weeks after the death of Wyoming’s Republican senator, Craig Thomas, Peter’s dad, John Barrasso (CAS ’74, MED ’78) took his seat as the 100th member of the upper house.

It’s a quirky little tale, for a lot of reasons – not least of which is the fluke in our constitutional design that lets Wyoming have the same number of senators as a real state.

Even better, though, was that his father’s elevation meant that Peter – a friendly, disarming kid professing only a casual interest in national politics – was now on his way to a university with one of the most voracious political appetites in the nation with his own unadvertised connection to all daily headline fodder on Capitol Hill.

Truth be told, it might in Peter’s best interest that his senatorial ties remain covert given Georgetown’s political bent. After all, not just anybody gets appointed to the Senate from Wyoming, a state President Bush won by a margin of 40 percent in 2004. And Papa Bear Barrasso didn’t take any chances.

“I believe in limited government, lower taxes, less spending, traditional family values, local control and a strong national defense,” he declared in his application to the state GOP committee, which nominated three candidates for the appointment. He further professed that he has always “voted for prayer in schools, against gay marriage, and have sponsored legislation to protect the sanctity of life.”

Not too many shades of gray in there. So it can be somewhat awkward, Peter admits, to hear friends and classmates advocate causes like immediate withdrawal from Iraq while his dad dutifully supports the Republican line in the world’s most exclusive club. Even he has his own points of disagreement.

“We have a few differences here and there,” he says.

But mostly, he says he’s proud to see his pop realize a lifelong political goal. And living so close to each other allows the two to see each other every now and then for some father-son political discourse over dinner.

More than anything, though, Peter’s sudden and unsought political status cracks him up. His friends think the whole situation is funny, he says. He jokingly considers calling up his dad before important votes to throw in his two cents. And two weeks ago, when the Dalai Lama stopped by the Capitol to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, he phoned over to his dad’s Senate office for last-minute tickets, a luxury he calls “hilarious.”

“It’s a funny position to be in,” he says. “It’s not bad, it’s just interesting.”

I think he’s right. The class of senatorial progeny to which Peter now belongs has certainly kept things interesting, if nothing else.

Who can forget the scene in Pittsburgh last year, when 12th-century conservative Sen. Rick Santorum conceded a crushing defeat to Democrat Bob Casey? Santorum was gracious in defeat, but the girl who stole the show was Sarah Maria Santorum, the puritanical Republican’s eight-year-old daughter, who squeezed her doll and sobbed uncontrollably while standing aside the podium.

Gleeful liberals reveling in Santorum’s defeat pounced on the image, posting it on blogs with less-than-sympathetic commentary attached.

And then there’s Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) son, Patrick, who came crashing onto the national scene in May 2006 when he drove his car into a police barricade on Capitol Hill. He later checked into rehab to treat depression and drug addiction.

Compounding Patrick Kennedy’s problems, of course, was that he’s a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island.

Measured against that yardstick, I’d say Peter Barrasso is adjusting pretty well. In fact, I think the longer he can keep up his relative obscurity, the better off he’ll be.

But while they adjust to the limelight differently – some with their dignity intact, others not so much – I think that there’s something comforting about our senators’ sons and daughters. Because let’s be honest: Their children are really the only thing senators have to be proud of nowadays.

Iraq, immigration, a new attorney general: You name it, the Senate screws it up. Tangled up by an extraordinarily narrow division of power among the parties and with one eye constantly on next year’s elections, the Senate has become, more than any other government institution, a monument to our current political dysfunction.

Call me a sap, but it gives me just a little peace of mind to know that, even if these people can’t run a government, they can still run families, and raise normal kids – kids who cry, kids who make mistakes, or, as in the case of Peter Barrasso, kids who can at least keep their sense of humor through it all. That, to me, offers just a glimmer of hope for the republic.

I’ll end this way: I don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues with John Barrasso. I would never vote for John Barrasso. But now that I’ve met his son Peter, I’d definitely shake his hand.

Stephen Santulli is a senior in the College and a former editor in chief at THE HOYA. He can be reached at THOUGHTCRIME appears every other Friday.

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