While I did not vote for my congressman—and will likely never vote for him (unless, of course, he undergoes some kind of philosophical transformation)—I e-mailed him to express my opinion. And then I called his office to express the same opinion (not only because I feel so strongly about the issue, but because in a day of templated e-mail solicitations, I understand that a phone call probably has a greater impact).
As I hung up the phone, my daughter, who was sitting in the room with me at the time, looked at me quizzically—so I explained to her what I had done, and the issue about which I had called. “Really?” she said—with an air of awe and wonder.
And then, after a pause she said, “So, does that work?”
I’ve given a lot of thought to that question since then. Of course, we live in a Republic, not a Democracy, and for the very most part, we don’t get to vote on all the individual issues brought before our legislative bodies. Instead, we vote for the individuals that we hope will represent our perspectives on those matters. Now, sometimes we get the individuals that represent our neighbor’s perspectives, rather than our own—but, with all its imperfections, that’s the system that has stood this nation well through all manner of adversities and prosperity.
Still, as Thomas Paine wrote in 1776 in Common Sense, “There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of monarchy; it first excludes a man from the means of information, yet empowers him to act in cases where the highest judgment is required.”
Now, substitute the word “politician” or “representative’ for “monarchy,” and you have the gist of the problem when you have a political “class”—one in which your elected representatives spend more time with other legislators than with people like you or me. That’s why the power of lobbyists can be so insidious, and why, IMHO, those who have been nothing but politicians for decades can become disassociated from the concerns of their constituents. It’s why, IMHO, so many seem to spend their time and energy worrying more about the interests of the people who help them get reelected, rather than the interests of those who actually reelect them.
But, to my daughter’s question—does it work? Well, so far as I can tell, my one call to one congressman the day before a critical vote had no impact at all, on this vote, anyway. That doesn’t mean that my call was wasted, of course. That said, over time, I’ve had any number of individuals tell me that they didn’t have the time, that they didn’t believe it would make a difference, or worse, that they were afraid that doing so would put them on some kind of “list.”
But as we commemorate the anniversary of our nation’s Declaration of Independence this week, we should all remember that we can only expect our interests – whether it be fee disclosure, participant advice, or issues of broader concern – to be represented if we are willing to make the effort to express them.
And then, of course, hope that our elected representatives continue to realize that our representative form of government works only when it is representative.