Friday, March 27, 2009

Democracy Depends on the "Demos" II

(Continued from March 25)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his radio “Fireside Chats” set a pattern that the nation’s subsequent presidents have used to good advantage in their never ending struggle with the Congress over policies and program funding. The broadcasts on radio, television, the internet, and all the newer technology have also enabled presidents to by-pass the message mediators – whether these wish him and his programs good or ill.

That Barack Obama is as fully engaged in the “direct” approach using today’s technology as his predecessors were with the technology they had is indisputable. In fact, based on Wednesday’s performance at what the White House termed an Internet Town Hall, it appears that this form of communication fits Obama as comfortably as the Fireside Chats fit Roosevelt in the 1930s.

But as noted in Wednesday’s blog, the Obama Department of Justice (DoJ) is starting to exhibit some of the bad habits of the Bush DoJ with regards to openness and transparency in government. This suggests that it may be time for the citizenry to take a leaf from the Obama presidential campaign and remind the DoJ that communications is a reciprocal exchange that involves at least two parties and two directions or positions. Secrecy inhibits communications.

While the president as chief executive works for all those living in the United States as well as citizens residing or traveling abroad, every person residing in any of the50 states is represented in the House of Representatives by a congressman or congresswoman. Given that every member now represents about 700,000 of us, one way to remind your “person in Washington” who they work for – and also remind the president of the same thing – is to suggest and then help (with other ordinary but concerned men and women, the “demos” of a democracy) your representative’s staff organize and publicize a series of moderated telephone “town hall” meetings of one to two hours duration. A “big name (star quality) moderator could attract callers, and with simple rules (e.g., callers have one minute to ask a question and your congressperson has two minutes to respond), a lot of ground could be covered. More importantly, your “person in Washington” would be more reliably informed of the people’s concerns because he has heard from them directly.

Politicians usually are very good at letting constituents know what they have done for the voters, but all too often they may not know what still remains unfinished – especially in the less densely populated parts of the congressional district.

By the way, if you want a subject for a “dry run” to check out whether the administrative details have been covered, you might try a variation of the clarion call of “no taxation without adequate representation.” That is to say: “The last time the House of Representatives added to the number of permanent seats in that chamber was after the 1910 census when the number of voting members was set at the current number of 435.”

Thanks to Bob Alpern for information about telephone town hall meetings where he lives.

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