It was difficult to catch any member of Congress on the television last week who wasn’t talking about doing what the American people want.
The American people, it seems, want them to cut the deficit, increase jobs, not to raise taxes and to balance the budget. Or to stimulate the economy, increase jobs, and make the wealthy pay their fair share. (You can guess which parties’ members say which.)
Just how members of Congress divine the wishes of the American people isn’t always clear. Elected officials dare not listen too closely to polls, for fear of being accused of holding their finger to the political winds and then being blown in that direction. It’s also possible to get just about any answer one desires from a poll by the way one words the questions.
There was a time when they’d check their mail. Not personally of course, but Washington is magnet for eager young interns who come hoping to change the world and get issued a letter opener and a desk in a small dark room. Later, interns would check voice mail and the fax machine.
In the 21st Century, they also check the congresspersons’ Facebook page, their Twitter account and the e-mail inbox, all of which provide more immediate communication than paper, pen, an envelope and a stamp ever could.
Except, of course, when cyberspace fails…
as it did last week after President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner urged citizens to e-mail their members of Congress to tell them to solve the debt limit crisis. This caused servers to crash, taking congressional websites down, and blocking the easiest e-mail route between a constituent’s home computer and his or her congressperson, the link on that website that generates a pre-addressed e-mail.
This may have been the crescendo of the debt limit cacophony, but not the only system failure. A good friend in Spokane said she had been trying to e-mail Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for more than a week to denounce the standoff, only to receive a “failure” message.
Even if such problems were intermittent, it does make it hard for congress persons to say with a straight face they know exactly what the American public wants, and in what quantities.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, whose website was down for at least part of that day last week, told supporters she’s been subjected to concerted push from foes, but she’s not about to be fooled.
“Recently, my phone lines and e-mails have been overflowing with scripted complaints insisting I stop standing up for taxpayers,” she wrote in a campaign e-mail. “Letters to the editor complain that House Republicans are unreasonable. But I know who elected me.”
McMorris Rodgers’ solution? For supporters to send her e-mail explaining her stance on the budget to 10 of their friends, send their own letters to the editor and call radio talk shows the messages “standing up for taxpayers and our reasonable approach to federal borrowing”.
She was even nice enough to include links to this newspaper and others in Eastern Washington. So if The Spokesman-Review gets extra web traffic, known in the business as eyeballs, we probably owe the congresswoman a thank you. But please, don’t cut and paste her letter, compose your own; we’ll likely notice the similarities and you wouldn’t want to be accused of sending scripted complaints.