Effective congressmen serve their constituents by stacking seniority and gaining committee assignments on committees that position them to benefit their specific districts. Think about Jamie Whitten, John Stennis, Jim Eastland, Sonny Montgomery, Pat Harrison, Trent Lott, Thad Cochran and other congressional lions from Mississippi's relatively recent history.
Beyond that, successful congressmen are those best able to work effectively not just with those with whom they agree in their own party, but with those with whom they disagree across the aisle.
Seniority is achieved by keeping one's fences mended with the voters back home and by providing reliable and responsive constituent services - helping people with Social Security, Veterans Administration and rural water association problems.
Committee assignments are won by making nice with the leaders of one's own party. Finally, bipartisan success is achieved by being as good as one's word and not voting in total lockstep with either party on Capitol Hill.
It also helps to have some vision, courage and to be willing to say "no" on occasion.
The evolving campaign narratives in 2010 in Mississippi tend to ignore all those facts.
Of course Democrats Travis Childers, Gene Taylor and Bennie Thompson voted for Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker. They are Democrats. What did their constituents expect?
Of course Republican Alan Nunnelee and Stephen Palazzo voted to cut spending on state programs in the Legislature and generally supported Republican Gov. Haley Barbour on issues like state Medicaid finance and eminent domain. Nunnelee and Palazzo are Republicans and - unlike Congress - the state Legislature is required to submit a balanced budget.
Look at the records
The putrid campaign narratives being served up in the state's two most hotly-contested congressional campaigns are distorting the records of all four major party candidates.
Childers, Nunnelee, Taylor and Palazzo are all good, decent men who've kept faith with their campaign promises. All four have voting records. Study them and study them in context. But the tenor of the current campaign leaves that reality in a steaming pile.
Are trumped up guilt-by-association half-truths spun in YouTube ads really the best that the national congressional campaign committees for both Democrats and Republicans can do to motivate voters?
No wonder there are so many minor party and independent candidates floating around out there and no wonder so many establishment candidates in both parties are getting their brains beat out in the primaries.
Sid Salter is Perspective editor at The Clarion-Ledger and a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or firstname.lastname@example.org.