Young and ambitious: A Beltway guide to political jobs

After working for three congressmen, the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Office of Political Affairs, Bill Endicott found himself with some time on his hands when George W. Bush became president. So, like so many other out-of-power Democrats, Clinton aides in particular, he decided to write a reflective book. Unlike some of his former colleagues, however, he chose not to defend past policymaking or politics but to encourage others to participate in them more fully.

Task accomplished.

Endicott lays out practical paths for how to get involved, move up the ladder and be good at it. He offers an easily understandable explanation of the governmental institutions, processes and culture of Washington political life.

He goes to the primary sources for advice and counsel, such professionals as House appropriations veteran Jim Dyer; former Senate leadership aide Dave Hoppe; former Democratic National Committee official Mignon Moore; House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) right-hand man, Scott Palmer; Clinton adviser John Podesta; and dozens of others from both parties. They provide fresh perspectives on how to get involved in government and flourish amid the competitive political forces of this town’s chief industry.

The book is organized into sections, with the early chapters devoted to the general processes of getting a job in the first place, describing the working lives of politicians and examining specific job roles in the national parties, the Congress, federal agencies and political organizations. Also described are the related private-sector jobs in think tanks, campaign shops, lobbying firms and media.

Chapter eight contains 36 case studies of people and their jobs, offering testimony on how ambitious young people can effectively move in, move up and move on. Though each story is unique, many common threads bind the experiences together, such as the utility of wide-ranging contacts, multitasking skills, thick skins, humor and, above all, faithfulness to people, causes and ideals.

There are many “how to” books like this, and only a few provide the depth or sweep of this one without getting theoretical or preaching. A glaring weakness of many of these books is that they are written by college professors with limited experience in practical government or, conversely, by former public officials with little experience in teaching young people.

This book avoids those problems by covering the basics and letting the leaders speak for themselves. Despite a wide range of political views and philosophy, the profiles underscore a common commitment to government as a worthy and honorable vocation.

Entering meaningfully into this world calls not only for an understanding of American governmental institutions and political processes but also for a firm belief that those systems, despite human frailties, offer possibilities for citizens who answer the call to serve. Endicott offers a readable directory for those who wish to dial in.

John Kornacki is a contributing writer for The Hill.