"Write your elected officials," and other bad advice

Since sixth-grade Civics class, we've been told that our rulers want to hear from us. We've been lied to since we were eleven. Photo: Dreams & Pancakes (Flickr Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2013 — This is America, where the people are represented by people just like themselves, people whose ideals and ethics are worn on their sleeves, where the good of the nation and her citizens are the most important considerations on everyone’s minds, and where the Constitution is the law of the land.

Go back to bed.

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Today’s America is run by insulated elites who have nothing but power and money on their minds, who know that the days of the Republic are short, and who are trying to do everything to grab as much as possible to take with them, to their new countries of residence when America is finally destroyed by their (and their predecessors’) perfidy and fecklessness.

Have you ever, in your life, written to your senators or representative with a view that differed from their announced (or their party’s) view, and, through the force of your argument, made the slightest difference in how they voted?

Have you ever received a letter from those people, saying that your own letter changed their view on a policy?

We’re not talking about an appointment to a military academy, or an appropriation for some disaster relief or special treatment or an “official honor” for a family member. This is about something that affects the nation as a whole, like an entitlement program, the debt limit, military spending, federal oversight of the Federal Reserve, or impeachment.

SEE RELATED: Make the president and Congress join us in the real world

For decades I have written to my electeds of both parties, and for years I have received polite replies that explain the elected’s position, that explain why he or she appreciates my support, or that give me a list of talking points about why I’m wrong. Never have I gotten anything that says, “Hey, thanks. I’d never thought of that,” or “Wow, that’s a new way of looking at it,” or “You make a good point; I think I’ll have another look.” Not once. Not ever. At best, they say “thank you” and tell me why I’m wrong, or why they’re going to ignore my points and vote their own way. That’s their right; it just isn’t encouraging.

The closest I ever came was when I jumped into a City Hall elevator in Denver with a Native American councilman, a Democrat, who was about to vote on a bill that would make the then-new traffic camera’s view the ultimate, unassailable plaintiff’s witness in certain cases. The bill was written in such a way that the car was the culprit, and the owner was liable for the violation, whether he was the driver or not.

I asked this man, “Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?” He nodded. “Did you get punished for it?” He nodded again. “How did you feel about the justice of that?” Now, he knew where I was going with this, and he smiled. The elevator opened, he went into the Council meeting — and voted for the bill. He wouldn’t cross party lines, no matter how he believed. Anyway, that was the closest I ever got, and that was with a captive audience, face to face. A staffer would never have let him see a letter. If anything, the staffer would have made a check mark on a tally sheet, alongside all the other “opposed” letters and phone calls.

So, here’s some practical advice to those who are about to write a considered, reasoned, documented explanation of their position, to an elected official whose party is opposed to it: Save your ink; tend your garden; hide your money. Words will never reach them.

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Tim Kern

Tim Kern taught economics for fifteen years, and discovered that understanding life is easy; it’s recognizing reality that takes practice. He holds a music degree, and later earned an MBA in finance from Northwestern University. He has lived across the US, and now makes his home in Anderson, Indiana.

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