Friday, September 6, 2013

Who the Hell Are You?

I commented on this thread over at C&S and it got me thinking a bit, so I guess i'll expound a little here too. Imagine for a minute you are outside working in your yard, and a guy walks up to you and says 'hi - i'm your representative in Congress and I want your vote'. Kinda like the farmer in this story said
Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett, I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected
Now most people reading this will think. Ha! In today's modern world, that just never happens. If you thought that - and admit it - you really did - then you exactly get my point. In Crockett's time, this was the way that elections were done. The representative would actually go around their district, introducing themselves individually and talking about how they were the best guy for the job. In theory, the congressional districts were small enough that this was possible.

In 1827 when Crockett was in office, there was (according to the chart on this wiki page) about 40,000 souls in a congressional district. Contrast that with 332,000 votes cast in the last congressional election in my district. Now a politician will rightly claim that it is understandable that there is no way they can visit with each voter as the numbers just don't make that possible. Using the above 320,000 voter number, assuming that there are 2 voters in each household, and a 15 minute visit with each household, that's something like 40,000 hours - or assuming a hard working 12 hour day of meeting and talking, 3333 days or 9 years (assuming no weekends or holidays off) to get this task done. Another mind blowing aspect to this issue is to consider that those 332,000 are (according the the 2010 census as noted in this report) only 30% of the 1,089,691 voting age citizens in the district.

So a representative has an out to such personal meetings. It just is not possible. What is the logical conclusion to that rather un-profound observation?  Exactly what is happening today. The 'representative' are not really representative at all. They have no obligation to interact with their actual constituencies, as such a thing is impossible. Instead, they must rely on a very undemocratic cadre of lobbyist and sycophants to guide them and their votes. With no direct contact, the have no need to face any voter who might say to them what that farmer said to Crockett:
I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again
 This type of confrontation was an assumed element of the democracy that the founding fathers envisioned. Amusingly, I will admit to having said almost those exact words to scary Jerry at his office during the Obamacare debate. Predictably his reaction was not near as noble as Crockett's. He claimed he was late to a meeting and scooted away as soon as he heard I would not vote for him (after making me and my family wait 10 minutes while he waxed on poetically about non-issue related matters with a lobbyist that was in line in front of us). Now that it is no longer an element that a politician need account for, the dynamics of our republic have changed. A politician need only avoid exposure to ridicule in the months prior to an election and garner just enough an edge to get his (or her) constituency to cast a vote for him or against his rival. This seems to me to be a bastardization of what the founding fathers intended.

Is there an answer for this? I suspect that the tea party movement toward strengthening the power of the state over federal intervention is the best way to get back to a representative democracy. Consider that in my State Senate district 40,000 votes were cast in the last election - shockingly similar to the size of the congressional district of 1829. That being said, I don't recall either of my state house or senate representatives holding any kind of townhall, knocking on my door, or publishing any missives about how they were going to vote in the coming year. I am thinking this is where democracy can be retaken. It is up to these representatives to re-educate the electorate about their responsibility by becoming more visible. Once people become aware of the political process, such shenanigans as making up outrage over a nonsense word (i.e. George Allen and the 'macaca' incident) will have less power and influence when it comes to a federal (or any other) election.

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