If you have not participated in a town hall meeting within these last several months, you have at least had the opportunity to observe footage from one or another of them via YouTube or your regular evening news channel. Following is an example video of such a gathering:
I had the opportunity the other day to lunch with a friend who brought up an excellent point. Why are we (the constituents) going begging to our senators and representatives within the context of town hall meetings? Why are these individuals, elected to represent our interests (not theirs, not the party’s, not Wall Street’s–ours) running the meetings as though they are in charge, and we are little more than powerless supplicants?
Most of you over the age of 16 have at one time or the other answered to someone who employed you. Strangely enough, this sort of thing has been going on for centuries. I am reminded of Dr. Luke, who documented the following statement from a Roman centurion:
For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.
Ever hear the term “public servant” used for elected officials? Hmm.
We have a form of government not shared by many other nations. Some call it a democracy. Others say it is a republic. For purposes of this article, let’s call it a democratic republic, or a representative democracy. I know, I know, some purists would have a fit that I’m not including all the caveats and modifiers, but this is a usable definition.
(For those of you who wish to have a pure democracy, consider American Idol. I’ve only seen a few clips of the show online, but my understanding is that the audience (both physical and virtual) vote for their favorite performers directly. The one (or ones) with the most votes stay on and go to another round. Over the years that this show has been broadcast, people have been “elected” for a variety of reasons, some of them having nothing to do with their actual musical ability.)
But, back to the main issue. My employer (and yours) hires us to do things that he or she is unwilling or unable to do for a variety of reasons, permitting me to act on my employer’s behalf in pursuit of certain tasks. Likewise, as a voter, I “hire” a representative or senator to act on my behalf. Granted, a single employer usually hires a number of employees. A senator, on the other hand, is the employee who has been hired by a collective employer. Since the employer is often a diverse collective, other matters come into play than one has in a regular employer/employee relationship.
All of this does not do away with one fact: I am the employer. As the employer, should I not know what my employee has done to further my interests? Should I not receive regular reports regarding ongoing issues, concerns, roadblocks, etc which bear on tasks at hand? Should I not be told when my assistance is required to get the job done? Should I not have access to my employee’s time when I make reasonable request for an update or meeting? Should I not even have the right to keep my employee from getting his or her work done so that I can deal with a more pressing concern? Should not all of these things, and more, be part of the contract which I have with my employee?
To those who would say, “But that’s why we vote. It’s a performance review for politicians” I have only this: Has it been two years (or six) since your employer last sat you down and talked about what you were doing right and not so right? If so, I daresay you are in a minority. Not to mention the weekly/biweekly or other reviews which generally occur throughout the course of a year.
Here’s the proposal (with credit to my lunchtime friend for many of these thoughts). We do not do away with town hall meetings, we just change them a bit. The public servant does not get to run the meeting, nor does he or she get to set the agenda. In fact, our servant gets to sit where you and I do now and listen as citizen after citizen goes up to the microphone and lets them know what is working and what isn’t working. At some point during the meeting, after all the citizens have had their say, the public servant may get up and address the issues which were raised, and only the issues. After all, patting one’s own back can be done with press releases. One shouldn’t waste the bosses’ time.
Further, what is it with elected officials telling us that they do not have time for town halls, or that they are too busy taking care of us, voting on bills, meeting with VIPs who are going to do great stuff for us? When the boss calls, the employee answers–or the employee isn’t the employee very much longer.
We have only ourselves to blame for the fact that we treat our senators and representatives as though they have power to do stuff for us if we are nice to them, instead of recognizing that their very jobs entail them looking our for our interests as free citizens of this country. I cannot but believe that Jefferson, Hamilton, Jay, Adams, et al would be mortified to know how much power we have given over to our duly elected representatives who then turn around and use that power to leverage even more.
Before I go, let me say that I fully understand that each of our elected officials cannot be available to each of us as though they were our employees in the commonly understood sense of the word. Similarly, when one person represents 800,000, it is not possible to have enough time in the day to personally listen to each voter’s concerns and act on them. Is that not why a senator or representative has staff (I like to think of them as subcontractors for my employees).
If our elected officials do not answer to us, are not accountable to us, do not respond quickly and comprehensively to requests for information, then we are not free men and woman and they do not serve us. Instead, they are become our masters.