Do our leaders in Washington work for us? Do they understand their roles as our representatives, or do they think of us as annoying customers?
To be fair, some political leaders do their best to act on our behalf. Nevertheless, many others act like businesses who couldn’t care less about individual customers. The following cautionary tale serves as a metaphor that elected leaders should note:
Top managers at one of New York City’s best-known hotels had become concerned about losing repeat business from their previously loyal guests. To determine how they could regain their top-flight image, they hired a consulting firm to survey lost revenues from long-time repeater-guests.
One former customer, a business executive who frequently visited New York, had abruptly chosen a competitive hotel for all future visits. He explained that he had noticed a few bedbugs during his last stay and wrote a letter to the hotel general manager. The general manager had replied promptly with a letter of apology, assuring that his staff had identified and corrected the problem, and proclaiming that the hotel maintained the city’s strictest standards of hygiene. Hotel management also invited the customer to a future stay, free-of-charge. Though the letter seemed sincere, a yellow post-it note had accidentally adhered to the back of the letter:
Unfortunately, many of our elected representatives respond to their constituents with an attitude akin to a bedbug letter, creating the narrative that “Washington isn’t listening.” A few months before their next re-election campaign, incumbent office holders portray interest in feedback from individual voters. Until their next election, however, we often hear only the sounds of “bedbugs.”
Personally, I seldom write to my elected representatives but have done so a few times over the years. Because I live in California, my senators and representatives are usually Democrats. Nevertheless, friends from other states have assured me that Republicans manage their relationships with constituents just as poorly.
I have written my elected representatives on two occasions in the past five years. In each case, I have labored to keep my comments brief and to-the-point. One communication was to insist that the Secretary of State re-open negotiations on the Iran Nuclear Agreement to leverage greater control. The other was to request that Congress and the President create a bipartisan plan for switching the country to renewable energy, with specifically timed goals over the next twenty-five years.
Following are assessments of the responses from my leaders in Washington:
Representative Eric Swalwell’s office sent a timely, well-written email, crafted to seem like a personal response. That’s the best treatment I can expect, and I appreciate Mr. Swalwell’s attitude and professionalism. His positions disagree with mine. Nevertheless, that is fair and not unexpected. My only issue is that he used some of the exact word-for-word phrasings of Speaker/Leader Nancy Pelosi, making his message seem a bit like a “hostage video” in which he is affected by implied party-line pressures from Ms. Pelosi’s office.
Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office sent one-page position statements on each subject, book-ended by “Thank you for your message,” and general well-wishes. As a senator from a very large state, she obviously can’t give personalized treatment to every message. Though her staff’s treatment of responses is a bit cold and impersonal, they demonstrate the senator’s concise thinking on the issues in question.
Senator Barbara Boxer responds with true “bedbug letters.” Her office takes so long to respond that a voter may forget the original reason for contact. Moreover, her messages don’t often relate to the subject to which she is supposedly responding. Instead, every message seems to inspire the identical narrative about how wonderful she is, along with a list of subcommittees and bills on which she is purportedly working. Few or none of these relate to the issue at hand in any way.
President Barrack Obama sent a warm, personal message with White House letterhead thanking me for supporting the Affordable Care Act, (i.e. Obamacare). There were two perplexing issues, however. First, I have never written to the President, so this was a response to a question or statement I never initiated. Further, I don’t support the Affordable Care Act. However, I did post to an unsolicited online query from AARP, though I am not a member. (Note: My post said that it is dangerous to shift billions of dollars from Medicare to the ACA because fewer Medicare funds will result in fewer doctors and longer waiting times before appointments. Longer waits may result in more deaths that could be avoided with prompt care.)
Grade: D-(Would have been F if he said, “You can keep your insurance, and you can keep your doctor.”)
The previous examples are evidence that many of our Washington leaders have evolved into a “political class” that collectively believes that the people they represent are less than important. We are all familiar with speeches by politicians who say something like, “Just last week, I chatted with an unemployed single mother in Muncie, Indiana, who said that her 10-year-old daughter cried herself to sleep in fear of Climate Change (or losing second amendment rights).”
Memo to Republicans and Democrats: We’re not that stupid. We don’t believe you anymore. You’ve got to win us back, or we’ll send you home. Start by telling the truth. Then attack the things we care about. “Compromise” isn’t a dirty word. In government, it’s a synonym for pragmatism. And stop spending money we don’t have. We don’t need a new bout of inflation, just to feed your egos and buttress your positions.
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX