If the Walls Could Talk
The Vanity Index: The biggest egos in the Senate.
Updated Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010, at 3:36 PM
Like Delaware Tea Party darling Christine O'Donnell, who memorably taped an ad for her U.S. Senate bid coyly declaring, "I'm You," politicians spend their campaigns desperately trying to pretend they are ordinary folk. But when it comes time to decorate their offices, the theme is often "I am so not you!" Stroll through any senator's office and you'll find scores of mini museums doubling as waiting rooms. The content of their exhibits varies widely, ranging from historical artifacts and sports memorabilia to expansive ego walls dedicated only to themselves.
There's nothing wrong with being proud of a career achievement or showing off the time you met a celebrity at a charity golf tournament. But when do a few photos or plaques transmogrify into a self-aggrandizing shrine? Where is the line between modest pride and out-of-control egomania?
In a quest to find out, we developed the Senate Vanity Index, a formula that measures the level of egotism displayed in each senator's lobby, the part of his or her office open to the public. (Here's a look at the math—really!—behind our formula. And here's the raw data, in convenient spreadsheet form.) Visiting all 100 offices, we counted every award and picture on the walls—giving special weight to each senator's poses with celebrities, presidents, and foreign dignitaries. We make no claims that our vanity formula is flawless. But we do feel comfortable declaring that we have found a truly bipartisan issue: Of the top 10 egos in our rankings, five are Republicans, four are Democrats, and one is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Six of those top 10 have run for president, but four are leaving office, meaning that some of the Senate's most spectacular ego walls will soon be dismantled. Fortunately, we have captured them for posterity—as well as several more exhibitions of senatorial splendor. View a slide show featuring the top 10 egos in the Senate, as well as a special bonus of some rare displays of modesty.
Darren Garnick is a freelance writer and documentary filmmaker.
Ilya Mirman is a photographer.