Politico has done a couple of well-done and revealing articles about lawmakers who have declined to hold public town hall meetings while they are back in their home districts. Instead, the members have been holding fundraising events, where, presumably, voters who make a contribution can ask a question of his or her representative. Since the congressmen in question are Republicans, Democrats have immediately pounced, calling the practice "pay per view."
That would be entirely legitimate if we lived in a different world, one where people possessed rudimentary manners, and one where congressmen didn't need to be constantly raising money so they could keep their jobs. The first response to the revelation that some lawmakers are eschewing town hall meetings is, why won't they listen to their constituents? But the follow-up response has to be, can we blame them? [Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]
What is the point of a town hall meeting that is all about theater, one at which activists (across the political spectrum) abuse the forum to embarrass or berate the host? School children can't get away with that sort of behavior in class, so why do adults think it's acceptable? The verbal poundings don't accomplish anything, except to rally the parties' respective bases and fuel anger among the electorate. Anger's not always a bad thing; it can motivate us to action. But anger for its own sake is destructive and immature. [Check out political cartoons about the Tea Party movement.]
Fundraising is distasteful. Voters seem to find it inherently corrupting, certain that a lawmaker is in the pocket of someone who gave the maximum contribution. In fact, most congressmen couldn't tell you who their individual donors are. And they hate fundraising. It's humiliating, having to ask people for money all the time so you can ask for your job again in two years. And it cuts into the time they'd like to spend actually doing their jobs. An official fundraiser, such as those mentioned in the Politico story, isn't a scandal. Those contributors can give only restricted amounts of money and must be identified. The real scandal is still brewing, and that is the one building from the virtually unregulated activity special interests, corporations and labor unions are now allowed, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United.
It would be terrific if congressmen could engage in civil dialogue with voters, and spend only limited time and effort raising cash for re-election. But the current environment and system won't allow it.