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EDITORIAL: Why no face-to-face time?
More and more, it seems, once politicians are elected, they retreat, and constituents' access is tightly controlled, even barely existent. They’re all about knocking on doors for six months or so, but once elected, try to get them or their staffs on the phone.
Calls to Sen. Pat Toomey’s office in advance of the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos jammed phone lines. Messages couldn’t even be left for the Pennsylvania Republican. One would think that in such a developed and technologically advanced country, the phones wouldn’t be overwhelmed when the people seek to contact their congressional representatives during an event of such vital importance to the education of our children.
But, alas. The phones don’t work. Even the email in-boxes were filled to the point of taking no new messages.
And the limited and controlled access includes community news access, as well. That’s not a priority for anyone because of the distrust of all things “media” — distrust often sown by lawmakers themselves. But it should be a concern because community news is the people — and if it truly goes away, the people will be even more excluded from those who say they represent them.
Rep. Scott Perry's town hall meeting Wednesday night, conducted via Facebook, is another fine example of limited access. While Facebook is often a place for the politically active — and even passionately partisan — it also can be tightly controlled. That’s because a moderator with administrator access can delete comments or even block certain would-be participants from the meeting with the Dillsburg Republican.
Town hall meetings, for some time, have become more heated. The tea party wrote the book on holding elected Republican representatives accountable for too much compromise and — conversely — not enough action. That turned into what columnist Leonard Pitts referred to as “the drain clog of a Congress,” which sought and achieved governmental obstruction by opposing the majority of Democratic President Barack Obama’s agenda.
But our question is, why does it seem many career politicians are unable to take the heat from constituents by communicating face-to-face unless they're glad-handing at election time? Largely, constituents' anger and frustration has been brought about by politicians’ poor-to-middling job performances. Congressional approval ratings back that up, and they haven’t improved much from low double digits.
No one said lawmaking was easy, but to shelter yourself from the people who pay you (except for a few months when you need something) seems like a very poor way to do a difficult, complex and vital job — policy-making on behalf of those people.
Just after the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016, we spoke with Philadelphia racial justice activist Anton Moore, who addressed the convention. His experience, he told us, is that politicians come around to poor black neighborhoods each year at election time with a turkey in hand and try to garner votes. Then once the election is won, they are gone — and the communities of color and poverty are left largely unrepresented as they struggle under an oppressively unjust government system designed to keep them from political and economic advancement.
If there is a silver lining to the election of the woefully inept and potentially dangerous Donald J. Trump, it’s that politicians have now been put on notice: No matter the party affiliation, when disgruntled and unheard voters participate, anything can happen.