In the age of auto responders, and the emergence of e-mail as a primary means of communication, I often wonder whether writing your representative — be it legislator, congressperson or senator — does any good anymore. I wonder if they read it at all or, if they do, whether they just dismiss an opposing opinion the same way most political discourse considers opposing opinions now — if it doesn’t agree with mine, rather than consider it, demonize the opinion-holder and ignore the message as the work of Satan.
I don’t think I’ve written my representative since I wrote Sen. Ed Brooke (another Republican who represented Massachusetts back when it was possible… and that reflected on Republicans, not Massachusetts, by the way) when I was a kid asking him to do something about cleaning up the environment. I got a nice letter back — in the mail — and it at least sounded like the senator, or something that exhaled carbon dioxide, tailored the message to the one received; maybe even, you know, considered it.
It would be the cheap shot to say he paid no attention to it in the era of global warming here, but thinking back to the ’60s, we thought nothing of going to McDonald’s (they didn’t have lobbies then), sitting in our car, eating the food, and then pitching all the trash out the window and driving off. Or maybe pitching it out the window after we drove off. We don’t do that anymore. So maybe I made a difference with my letter to Ed Brooke. Who knows?
My wife occasionally writes to our state representative, with whom she rarely agrees, and usually gets back some garbagey e-mail that basically says “I’m really a great legislator, look at all the work I’m doing for you…” and then lists all of her accomplishments, but always leaves my wife asking, “um, great, you singlehandedly widened I-94 to three lanes, what about the points of the message I wrote you?”
Of course, the lawmaker apparently never read it or didn’t care enough to be the next Ed Brooke, which is too bad because if you don’t have time to listen and talk to your constituents, what are you doing in the job in the first place?
I was going to do a survey of some sort to ask currently sitting politicians when the last time was they had their mind changed by a conversation with a constituent? Now I’m thinking of doing one on when the last time is they actually read the message from and responded to one?
I’m sure as we get into the debate season, we’ll hear all the usual questions about all the usual subjects and all the usual non-answers coming back disguised as answers and everyone will leave being no more informed than they were before.
But it would be great to have a debate in which one questions was: name the last time you changed your mind after talking to a constituent?
Until then, I assume all the e-mail can be found in the parking lot at McDonald’s.