It may be helpful, at a time like this — when Congress is threatening to shut down the U.S. government in a dispute over a tiny fraction of the federal budget — to think of legislators like a lost forest tribe.
They have their own puzzling beliefs (in mid-afternoon, senators often announce they have shifted to “morning business”). They have their own language (on Capitol Hill, “chimps” are funding cuts and not primates). And they live in isolation, working in a sealed mini-realm with its own food, its own police, its own subway service.
Now, a Harvard University professor has analyzed this tribe’s behavior, using computers to look for trends in members’ writings. And he’s learned something that might help explain why Congress is having such trouble working out a deal this week.
He learned, to his amazement, that modern members of Congress spend about 27 percent of the time just taunting each other.