Perusing the website of the Harvard Law Review, one can find exegeses on the arcane legal questions of the day from scholars who, though prominent in academe, are usually not well known outside the Ivory Tower.
But if you happened to be reading the Review recently, you could also find the byline of one Ted Cruz, the sitting Republican senator from Texas, who, between fighting for conservative purity inside the GOP and trying to defund Obamacare, somehow found time to write a 10,000-word legal essay on a fairly obscure recent Supreme Court case, complete with 181 citations that made it through the Review’s rigorous editing process.
Yes, he wrote it himself, a Cruz spokesperson confirmed, for those who think he may have farmed out the job to his staff. Because for the senator — a former national champion debater, graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law, and famously proud smart person — what’s the point of publishing something in the Harvard Law Review if you’re not going to write it yourself?
Some people use their free time to watch TV; others read. Ted Cruz may do both (this reporter spotted him alone at a Washington movie theater some months back), but he also writes Harvard Law Review articles. It seems as if every member of Congress golfs or hunts, but Cruz is not the only politician with a quirky hobby.
Rick Santorum bowls, and may have done better in 2012 if Wisconsin had heeded his suggestion to decide the state’s primary with a bowling match; Paul Ryan catches catfish with his bare hands in a practice known as “noodling”; and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes his family on survivalist expeditions and calls them vacations.
Even mild-mannered Rob Portman, the Republican senator from Ohio who once directed the Office of Management and Budget, is an extreme-sports fanatic, and he has the titanium shoulder plate from a mountain biking accident to prove it. He’s kayaked all 1,900 miles of the Rio Grande River, still races canoes, and built his wife a chicken coop for Christmas one year.
Not extreme enough? Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., used to be a mixed-martial arts fighter. Not self-sufficient enough? Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., personally built his solar-powered, off-the-grid house, and kept a blog to document its progress. “No, someone hasn’t hacked my timber frame blog. I am running for United States Congress,” he wrote in his last blog post two years ago, explaining why he hadn’t updated the site in a while.
Other politicians, like Cruz, have decidedly less physical hobbies.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a former reporter, writes novels. “It is what I love to do,” she told CBS’s Bob Schieffer in 2009, the year her last novel was published. It’s a political thriller about a female U.S. senator from California (ahem) who finds herself pitted against allies of the shadowy and hawkish vice president (ahem). Publisher’s Weekly wrote that “the big reveal is a little too out there, and the wrap-up is overly tidy,” but that Boxer and her co-author still “manage a fast-paced narrative.”
“It is a hobby of mine,” she told Schieffer. “And as I say, other people play golf and tennis. I would love to, but I don’t. So this is my hobby, and on those long plane rides, I get five hours and I love to write.”
While it’s not exactly a hobby, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., devotes time to a skill that could rival Cruz’s in nerdiness: Microsoft Excel. In another life, Merkley worked for the Congressional Budget Office (his 1988 report on “The B-1B Bomber and Options for Enhancements” is still online), and even as a senator, he can’t suppress his inner wonk.
When his office was working on a bill to help people struggling with their mortgages, he personally did some of the mortgage risk analysis using “very complex spreadsheets,” a spokesperson said. Last year, he put those skills to work again to manage water-distribution predictions while working on another bill. His staff could do the work — and sometimes tries to turn his attention to more senatorial duties, a former aide said — but he apparently finds pleasure in the spreadsheets.
But he’s not all nerd. In 2012, he completed an Ironman-distance triathlon, running a full 26-mile marathon, plus 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride, in just over 15 hours. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., completed her own Ironman in November, even though she could barely swim at the beginning of the year. (Olympic gold-medalist Misty Hyman helped train her.)
Former President George W. Bush famously paints in his post-presidential life, a hobby Dwight Eisenhower also picked up, encouraged by Winston Churchill. “I have a lot of fun since I took it up, in my somewhat miserable way, your hobby of painting,” Eisenhower wrote to Churchill in 1950. “I have had no instruction, have no talent, and certainly no justification for covering nice, white canvas with the kind of daubs that seem constantly to spring from my brushes.”
Politicians are busy people, so it’s hard to imagine how they find the time. But they’re still people who have a life outside of work, just like anyone else. Given the kind of personality it takes to run for office, they’ll probably throw themselves at a hobby harder than most. And considering how little legislating Congress does these days, there’s less competition for their mental energy.
“There’s a reason why these folks get in these positions,” a Senate aide quipped. “And sometimes they’d just rather do it themselves.”