If the American people found out what was going on there," says a source in Ronald Kessler's alarming study of Congress, "they would tear it down brick by brick." That's a troubling sentiment in this edgy time of antigovernment zealotry, but it is also understandable, given the amoral, often criminal behavior depicted in Kessler's exposé.
A former political reporter for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal who isn't shy about naming names, Kessler has cataloged decades' worth of corruption and scandal involving our nation's elected officials. Drawing mainly from the eyewitness accounts of Capitol police officers, doormen, clerks and pages, Kessler uncovers wanton sex (a nymphomaniacal former female aide with a penchant for senators), rampant lawlessness (police "unarresting" congressmen for drunk driving) and nauseating bureaucratic excesses (senators ordering $20,000 silk-covered chairs—which they get to buy for $100 at retirement). The rules of disorder have been followed by Republicans and Democrats alike. But not all the news is bad; we learn, for instance, that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is a really good tipper.
Collectively, Kessler's findings amount to a call for massive congressional reform—tempered with a warning that such a purge probably won't happen anytime soon. (Pocket, $23)