Politicians and the public

Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, says he plans to introduce legislation “that would encase the House Gallery in ‘a transparent and substantial material’ such as Plexiglas that would keep members of the public from being able to throw explosives or make other attacks on members on the House floor,” CBS reports.

As with most acts of terrorism, while the initial incident is horrible enough, the subsequent actions motivated by fear of a repeat can be damaging too.

Washington, unlike any other place in America, is a place of symbols that make statements. Encasing representatives in a plastic bubble has a message as well.

For all of our kvetching (guilty!) about politicians, they and their staffs are a pretty courageous lot.

At the Democratic National Convention in Boston (my hometown) in 2004, I was awestruck by this moment at Bunker Hill in Charlestown when every single one of the Democratic leadership sat out in the open, just a few years after 9/11 sent our national psyche into hideout mode.

I wrote about itat the time:

There are a lot of dead Bostonians as a result of September 11th. Two of the planes took off from here so you can forgive these folks for being a little gun-shy. But they drew a big target on themselves with this convention (and so did the folks in New York) and then set about sending that message and it says this: “look at us, determining the nature of our own government. And we’re not afraid to do so.”

You have to give great credit to the upper crust of the Democratic Party who sat on a stage on Bunker Hill on Tuesday for the Salute to Veterans. I’m not sure if I knew someone would love to take a shot at me, I’d be sitting there because despite all best efforts, any old shmoe can walk to within 5 feet of them because yesterday one old schmoe did. It was me.

There was also the message President Bush sent when he threw out the first pitch at the first Yankees game after 9/11. Yes, the security was tight. Yes, everyone had to go through a metal detector, but one guy stood in the middle of 50,000 people by himself and it wasn’t to deliver the message that baseball is a great sport.

The threat doesn’t lessen at lower levels of government. Who could have foreseen, for example, the attack on a school board in Florida? Metal detectors have since been installed.

And yet, many leaders insist through their action that retreating behind a wall isn’t the answer. Many congresspeople, for instance, intentionally added public appearances to reinforce that point.

In Minnesota, too, lawmakers, the governor, and state officials are considering ways to beef up security.

“Minnesota state government is really quite behind — not only other states but other units of local government in this metropolitan area — in terms of addressing security. So we have a long way to go,” Legislative Auditor James Nobles said.

A week ago, Gov. Mark Dayton stunned just about everyone by inviting people opposed to him into his office to say exactly what was on their mind, while he stood nearby and listened. “It’s the noise of democracy,” he said.

It was also a powerful message that people matter enough to be listened to close-up, that there’s more symbolism in listening to people, than fearing them. That’s the sort of thing that can get lost in the fear and anger that prevails in the aftermath of any national tragedy.

No doubt, balancing the state budget this session is the hardest task facing lawmakers. But balancing powerful messages with the need to protect those who serve might be a close second.

  • Bob Moffitt

    If anyone lawmaker deserves to be kept in a glass jar like a bug, it’s Rep. Dan Burton.

    That man is an embarassment to my home state, which is saying quite a bit.

  • BJ

    Do you think Mark Dayton would do that same thing today.

  • Chris

    I was under the impression that there was very little security for Governor Dayton’s inaugural ball the other day. My co-worker attended and he said he was surprised given the Arizona attack earlier in the day.

  • Bob Collins

    Here’s one way to look at it:

    As of 5 this evening, the population of the U.S. was estimated to be 311,875,394. The number of people who’ve attempted to assassinate a sitting member of Congress is 1.

    Yes, I realize that “it only takes one,” but in evaluating the reaction, it may be possible to further assess the threat.