Saturday, February 25, 2017

Note to Congress: If you're afraid of your constituents, you're probably not representing their interests

Republicans (and Democrats alike) and their viral town hall meetings are storming the news of late. Some Republicans dismiss it all as paid or organized protests. Ha, ha. And some like Marco Rubio have claimed that they aren't doing in person town halls due to their fear of hostility from their own voters.

The reports I've read of these town halls seem to provide a disturbing clue about American politics: Representatives in town halls share their views like gospel expecting the people they represent to follow. Um, I think it's supposed to be the other way around. The purpose of the town hall meeting is for elected representatives to get a sense of what the people in their district want. They are supposed to represent the interests of the people, not their own.

Cyndy A. Matthews provides some insight from a local town hall in a district in Ohio hosted by Representative Jim Jordan:
The questions about the Affordable Care Act revealed Jim Jordan's position for better or worse on health care. He stated at one point that "health care is bad for business." Business people making big profits are more important than saving lives or preventing the suffering of his fellow Americans in the representative's opinion. He also stated he did not like how his able-bodied 27 year old son had to pay higher private health insurance premiums because other people's young adult children are sometimes sicker with diseases like M.S. or cancer. It wasn't "fair" since his son is "healthy" and shouldn't have to subsidize other "non-healthy" Americans' health care.
Mr. Jordan provides the same rationale that I often see in this debate: "Look, we're all just free agents in a bag of skin. Why can't we get along without being forced to subsidize each other?" Never mind that nobody chooses to get cancer or MS. Nobody chooses to drink or shower in polluted water, either.

Matthews goes on to report how Mr. Jordan gave someone sympathetic to his views the podium and ignored the others. It would appear then, that Mr. Jordan, like many politicians of late, have mistaken a forum where all views should be given a voice, for a campaign whistle stop. It's as if he really wanted to make it all about him rather than the people he claims to represent.

The Huffington Post reports that, Rep. Marsha Blackburn [was] Besieged By Boos At Tennessee Town Hall. One member in attendance yelled out, “We are not stupid. Stop this," in response to Blackburn's praise of Betsy Devos. The article goes to describe several incidents where Blackburn is booed by her audience. As a one time comedian, I know how it feels when I bomb and I always learned something when I did, but Blackburn doesn't seem to be learning as this exchange suggests:
Pratik Dash, a Franklin High alumnus, asked the representative to comment on Trump’s statement that he wants to prioritize refugees who are Christian.
“Is it right to prioritize people based on their religion?” he asked, to applause from the crowd.
Instead of answering the question directly, Blackburn launched into a discussion of refugees and the need for more vetting, prompting Dash to ask again, “Do you think it’s right to prioritize people based on their religion? Yes or no?”
“I know that Christians have seen incredible persecution,” Blackburn replied, prompting another chorus of boos.
It is clear that representatives are trying really hard to steer the conversation to fit their own narrative rather than listening to their constituents and airing their views. The two examples above are just a few of the many that I've seen strewn across the internet. The political climate has gotten so bad for Republicans and politicians in general that even Bernie Sanders chimed in:
I think he only goes halfway in his statement. I replied and took it a bit closer to the truth:
I qualified my tweet with the word "might", but I think it's fair to say that Congressmen and women who face angry crowds at town halls must know that their constituents are angry because their interests are not being represented in Congress. It's plain to see when Republicans can claim 26% of voter registration and Democrats 30%. Both parties have done a pretty lousy job of representing America. They both gave us Trump and Clinton as choices for president last November.

Incredibly, The Atlantic has found some politicians willing to admit that the concerns brought up at town halls are real and that the crowds are not manufactured. They are acknowledging that people are taking time out of their busy lives to attend and air their fears and worries. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Congress will actually listen and act on their concerns:
Even if some GOP lawmakers adopt a sympathetic tone toward angry town hall crowds, that isn’t necessarily an indication that they’re changing course. When Cotton told the crowd on Wednesday that he wouldn’t deny Obamacare has helped people in the state of Arkansas, he quickly added it has also “hurt many Arkansans.”
Cotton seems to be misdirecting his constituents around the real problem, a problem that no one in Congress is talking about: big money in politics. Scientists have figured this out long ago, but too many people in Congress don't like scientists (they be like, "Republicans"). Harvard law professor Larry Lessig has been giving speeches with plenty of examples to choose from to be found on YouTube. I guess Congress has not taken notice of him yet, either.

People are finally waking up and noticing that Congress has been listening to big business and big money rather than their own constituents. Apparently, many members of Congress seem to think that money from big business is what keeps them in office, and that addressing the concerns of their constituents is an afterthought.

Bernie was right. If you don't have the guts to face your own constituents, you shouldn't be in Congress. He just left out the part about why that's important: if you're not representing the interests of your constituents, you shouldn't be in Congress.
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