Guest Column: Writing RomCom Keeps DC Advocacy Pro Sane at the Center of Politics

By Stephanie Vance


On the eve of the most recent primetime hearing regarding the events on January 6th, it’s clear the partisan divide in Washington, DC is deeper than ever– except maybe in 1858 when two members of Congress ripped the hairpiece off one another during a debate on the House floor. And although we haven’t seen any hairpiece ripping (yet), the anger and frustration between the two parties is growing increasingly palpable.


Despite this discontent, however, we still need people in Washington, DC willing to commit their careers to keeping the lights on and the trains running. So how do we cope with this rising animosity? One word. Humor.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m the first one to say there’s nothing explicitly comical about the current political environment. Having lived and worked in DC for over 30 years, I recognize that creating laws is serious business and politicians have vehement disagreements as to what’s best for the country. At the same time, however, each party’s desperate seriousness only adds fuel to the fire. I try to cope with the drama by finding what’s good and worthy in the work I honestly love. Showing DC through the lens of my romantic comedy, Across the Aisle, helps me achieve that goal. Here are five reasons why I do it.


It's good for my mental health


Political types have a hard time leaving all the rancor at the office. We’re surrounded by it All.The.Time. We arrange our vacations around the Congressional schedule, we keep our TVs on at work and tuned to CNN, FOX, MSNBC (depending on preference)—even our “fun” time is politically-based (as evidenced by the Congressional Baseball Game my Across the Aisle characters attend). Carrying all that around day and night isn’t pleasant or healthy. Humor helps alleviate some of this city’s unrelenting frustration. That and a glass of wine.


It helps me push back on all the anger


Comedy is an excellent way of disarming hostile situations. Sure, it doesn’t work all the time and we can’t (and shouldn’t) laugh ourselves out of some arguments. But it can help, especially when we’re angrier than is appropriate in a specific situation, which happens often in DC. When political arguments escalate, everyone digs into their own perspective, which makes “getting along” much more challenging.


It helps make my nonfiction work more accessible


As I’ve built up my career, my focus has been on helping people communicate with their government, and I’ve written several nonfiction books on the topic, including the Washington Post bestseller, The Influence Game. I consider that work very important, and often say, with tongue firmly in cheek, that I’m “off to save democracy” (see the note below about taking ourselves too seriously). In fact, whenever I leave for vacation, I tell people in my office not to contact me unless there’s an “advocacy emergency.” There’s never an advocacy emergency. It’s just not a thing. I think my advice on how to effectively engage in our democracy is more enticing because it’s self-deprecating and fun, not preachy and irritating.


It helps me not take myself too seriously


And speaking of being serious, politicos often consider themselves to be very important people with very important jobs scurrying about doing very important things. Sure, our work is essential to the running of our country. But we’re not emergency room physicians or fire fighters or any of a hundred other professionals literally saving lives. Our work is more indirect. For example, when the COVID pandemic hit, Congress responded surprisingly fast and in a bipartisan fashion to keep the economy going. Important? Yes, very important. But we weren’t frontline healthcare workers fighting the pandemic on a person-by-person basis.


And I’m not alone in this perspective. I know one member of Congress who hosts a “Comedy Night” fundraiser, where members of Congress perform stand-up comedy. One even does magic tricks (and he’s really good)! The theme running through all their acts is this idea that a little levity can be a good thing.


It's (hopefully) a vehicle for improving readers’ opinions of DC and the political process


Everything I write about is based on my 30 years in DC. I want people to know that working across the aisle—even now—happens all the time. In the last year and a half, Congress passed 159 laws, the vast majority of them on a bipartisan basis. In fact, the US House (home of the January 6th hearings) passed four bills on July 19th by vote margins as high as 397 for to 22 against. And these weren’t your easy “let’s rename a Post Office” bills. One was to reauthorize the National Park Foundation, another was about international human rights (hint: we support them), and the remaining two were related to conservation and land use. Most people don’t know that because “Congress got along and did stuff” doesn’t make for a good headline. If a romantic comedy featuring two people who cross the aisle can help even one person understand that, then I’ve done my job.


About the Author

Stephanie Vance wears two hats: romantic comedy writer, and D.C. advocacy guru with a 30+ year career. The boutique firm she heads, Advocacy Associates, helps associations drive citizen-based approaches to achieving policy change and Stephanie’s career has inspired her fiction. Her debut novel, Across the Aisle, stars two young lobbyists with opposing views involved in a racy, high-stakes legislative battle. An extensive traveler and avid scuba diver, Stephanie has visited six continents and dived everywhere from Iceland to the Great Barrier Reef. She attended college on a music scholarship (flute) and holds three master’s degrees—which she’s pretty sure equals a Ph.D. Her nonfiction book The Influence Game made the Washington Post bestseller list. She lives in D.C. with her husband.