During the George W. Bush administration, one thing he was accused was living in an echo chamber where he could never hear any voices dissenting from his policy. As a result, he was out of touch with the American people and developed some sort of political myopia regarding prosecuting the War on Terror and other items on his agenda.
I don’t know how true that was for the Bush White House; I expect that most administrations since Lincoln have had their information from the outside world filtered to some extent so that the information supports the administration’s agenda. It’s a human characteristic. We hear what we want to hear and ignore viewpoints opposing ours. I have been guilty of that and have to make an effort to listen to liberal or progressive viewpoints in order to critique my own.
One group of people who should absolutely not have a problem listening to opposing viewpoints are our representatives in Congress. We chose these people to represent us in the Congress. We pay their salaries and office expenses. Besides reading and understanding the legislation they are voting on, they should have a good idea of what we, their constituents, think about the legislation.
Unfortunately, my experience with my senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb, makes it appear to me that they live in some kind of isolation chamber so that they cannot or will not hear the unfiltered opinions of the people they represent. During the health care bill debate, I sent a few e-mails and made a few phone calls to their offices expressing my opinion on the legislation. The response I received from both senators consisted of robo-emails that, doubtlessly, thousands of other people received. I’m sure my e-mail was at least glanced at by some staffer and tabulated into a count of positive or negative opinions about the legislation.
Fair enough. I don’t expect personal responses by legislators who have more than six million constituents. But I do wonder whether they ever take the time to personally hear what any constituent not giving a large campaign contribution has to say on this or that piece of legislation. I never heard of any town hall meetings by Webb. Warner held an electronic town hall or two. Of course that eliminates any citizens who don’t use computers. Plus, do the electronic town halls give individual citizens an opportunity to present the basis for their opinions, or is it battle of the sound bites, perhaps much like the public town halls?
It would be healthy for our republic for our elected representatives to hold a few town hall meetings every year in order to hear at least some of what the people they are supposed to be representing have to say. The representatives should listen more than they speak and then answer constituents’ questions candidly.
Beyond the very public town hall forum where emotions and sound bites may prevail, the representatives could also meet personally with a few of the constituents who contacted them in order to have an in depth discussion on current legislation. Some us are informed enough about the legislation to hold an intelligent conversation about it. If we knew that we would be discussing it with our representative or senator, we’d bone up a bit more in preparation.
If enough legislators put forth the effort to listen to and consider what their constituents have to say about legislation, perhaps Washington wouldn’t be so out of touch with the rest of the country.