Kent Pitman

Kent Pitman
New England, USA
Philosopher, Technologist, Writer
I've been using the net in various roles—technical, social, and political—for the last 30 years. I'm disappointed that most forums don't pay for good writing and I'm ever in search of forums that do. (I've not seen any Tippem money, that's for sure.) And I worry some that our posting here for free could one day put paid writers in Closed Salon out of work. See my personal home page for more about me.


AUGUST 4, 2011 6:43AM

My Rep Says He Understands and Shares my Concerns

Rate: 18 Flag


Date:   Recently
To:   My Representative




A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post urging citizens to write their representative asking them to just stop the gaming. I felt we should just address the debt ceiling, not the debt. And I thought we should say that clearly to our representatives.

And then recently I was reading a post by Walter Blevins in which he remarked on how ashamed he is of Congress, saying “It seems to be all about power and contentiousness with not a lick of concern for governance. Not a lick of concern about ‘the consent of the governed.’ ”

It’s a good point. And I wanted to raise a specific example, even if it’s only anecdotal. I’m sure plenty of people have had this kind of experience.

My representative, Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH), clearly doesn’t care what I think. Here’s an excerpt from his response to my plea that he “stop the gaming” (bold mine for emphasis):

“Thank you for contacting me regarding raising the federal debt limit. I understand and share your concerns about the current fiscal situation facing our nation ...self-congratulatory blather elided... I will not support simply raising the debt ceiling once again...”

Obviously, there’s a total disconnect between what I requested and how he responded. And, of course, he isn’t responsible to me personally. I don’t have enough money to command politicians to do my bidding. I’m part of the large sea of what many are coming to see as second-class citizens.

But is it too much to ask that he at least acknowledge that he isn’t satisfying me? It’s one thing to not do what I want, but the least he could do is say so. For example:

Thank you for contacting me regarding raising the federal debt limit. I understand what you’re suggesting but too bad for you because I just do not share your concerns. I have calculated that I can get re-elected without caring about what you think and so I choose to completely ignore your suggestion.

Even this would be more honest:

Thank you for contacting me regarding raising the federal debt limit. I didn’t actually read what you wrote, so I have no idea if we’re in agreement or not, and I can’t really be bothered tailoring my response to say we either agree or disagree. Frankly, I have calculated that I can get re-elected without caring about what you think either way, so what’s really the point in my conversing with you further?

The thing is, if the replies were more honest like this, some staffer might keep a count of how many of each kind they sent out. And maybe they’re be the tiniest hope that he’d find out at some point, and perhaps care.

Oh, who am I kidding? That’s not what’s going to happen.

What we need is a law that just lets us sue them for lying to a citizen when they write junk insulting us by saying they agree with us when we don’t. But then we’d have to get Congress to pass such a law. And I guess that’s not going to happen either.

But it still bothers me that politicians can make promises to get elected but then ignore those promises when elected. And it bothers me they can lie to their constituents with no consequence.

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I have a file for these. It is titled BS&BLATTER.
I put them all in. The only letters I get from any rep that is personal comes from my state Representative here in NC. He even includes my first name. If they title the reply: Dear Friend...I laugh.
Mission, they should have a pick-list you can use in the form you mail in that allows you to choose the pointless attempt at making the response seem chummy. Rather than "Mr./Miss/Mrs." you should get to pick "friend/foe", as in "Dear friend Mission," or "Dear foe Mission," ... at least then you could help them know which letter to send. Though I think they mistakenly believe these letters are going to be persuasive in changing your view of how on-top-of-it they are. They don't want to compromise on their alleged principles based on rational argument, but they figure their rationalized argument is going to make me compromise on mine?
I think they lose all sense of reality once they get that glimpse of the 'golden hog trough' that is inside the beltway Kent. The feed is sooo good they forget the reason they got elected.
Maybe you should send a promise for money on the next election cycle. Maybe then they will 'compromise' on their views. I just don't know anymore....
Oh, Kent - I don't usually (I hope, any way?!) write too impetuous or emotional a comment on a blog but maybe I'll just indulge myself for a moment here, because it's (what's increasingly typical for me by now) "an insomniac moment" [three hours sleep was all I could manage last night ... and a bit of all that time writing "pms" to OS-ers! ;-)].

"That said" [?] (a form of what I call "yin" thank you for the fact of my finding your post just now):

I got the same kind of format reply from my [party Democrat] Senator whose stand I wrote to thank her for. [I got no earlier reply from my local party Republican Representative to whom ... absurdly ... I wrote the chattiest e-mail I've ever written an elected official ... as though that would get me or anyone else anywhere?! ;-).

Kent, of course you know this:

There's a helluva lot of "us" vs. the few of "them" (in the government positions). But ... to be fair [sic?] is it any more reasonable to fault them for the format of their pro forma responses than for us, here, at Open Salon to keep carping at OS for when it times us out?

Sorry to be a little woolly headed but I warned you, o.k.? Always great to hear from you!
Your keen mind and post here has me scratching my head as to what on earth has all this come to?
Marte, if I thought it was just an accident I might not have minded. For example, if there were a stack of “I agree with you” and another stack of “I disagree with you” letters waiting to go out, and my name was on the wrong one, I'd see it as understandable. But, sight unseen, I bet there are not two stacks. I bet there is a deliberate choice to have only one kind of letter coming back and to have it say “I understand/agree” which seems not at all like an error or a lack of resource but like a willful choice. (Your mileage may vary.)
Algis, the politics seems not to have come to a good place. As to my allegedly keen mind and this post, I don't know if it's gotten to a much better place. I wish I had a better suggestion to make about how to fix things. But thanks for reading.
Thanks, Kent!

I'm still a kind of partly appalled newbie about the quickness of Gmail's ability to keep what they call "conversations" alive, I kind of hate to take up a lot of space time on a blog with what feel (to my earlier noncybertech sense of things) transient and trivial remarks. But now that I'm at least beginning to catch on and trust about these quicknesses of posts, I'll "shut up and listen" for a while, and I look forward to the ongoing exchanges!

Marte, I hope I didn't say “shut up” in there by accident anywhere, but I'm glad you'll listen on. I often find I learn a lot by reading individual comments on these posts of mine. One reason I respond to all of them, or try, is not just to hear myself talk but to at least try to let everyone engaging know that they were behind heard so they feel it's worth their time. And that means me reading their comment well enough to say if I agree or disagree, for example. It's slow and cumbersome, but leaves me feeling better informed.
Thanks, Kent! -

I am, for sure, "listening" (reading ... I don't have working audio at the moment) . no, I wasn't suggesting you were asking me to "shut up"; I was the more telling myself to leave this thread for a bit of time time more comments are posted, "Cuz" I'm still a ... what? quadgiplegic?! when it comes to how to use the Internet's quicknesses. [Sorry I couldn't figure out how to spell that right ;-( !] Signing off the Internet for the next bit of time but not before telling all of you how much I appreciate your multifold blogs and the exchanges of these posts,

A few hours later [;-)] I'll check in again to see who's said what!

'till then,
"And it bothers me they can lie to their constituents with no consequence. "
Kent, there's a series of commercials airing here in San Diego for a local credit union in which bankers and bank directors are shown gleefully generating more and more money at the expense of customers. There's only one word in the script and it's repeated over and over in lieu of dialogue: "money". "money, money, money, money, money, money" in changing inflections to convey that's all they're concerned about. It's highly effective.
My point, is that apparently that's all that concerns so many members of Congress or any other elected body--money to enrich oneself, money to assure re-election, etc. Teabaggers know this and write lots of checks--they get paid attention to. Folks like us don't have the money to do that so we'll have to come up with other ways--with our vote certainly. But we're going to have to organize and, ultiimately, I think, take to the streets. Then they might listen.
Couldn't agree with you more. And thanks for the laugh. I needed it.
Walter, I've taken not to giving money for general funds. Rather, if there is a specific action ongoing that I think might be helpful, I support that specifically. Or if someone did something and I want to reward that kind of action. Money on a much shorter leash. I'm mixed on the other thing. Maybe for a candidate I really believed in. Those are harder to find... Obama squandered a truckload of hope.
Steven, sense of humor is something I hope we can all retain. Losing that would be devastating.
Well, Kent, for a minute I thought I had gotten somewhere with my letter to my U.S. Representative John Lewis (D). I received a similar form letter response to yours, but in this instance it was okay because John Lewis voted AGAINST the so-called compromise bill. Yay!?????
Not so fast. In a local interview he said if "they had needed his vote to pass it, he would have voted FOR," but since his vote wasn't needed, he decided to vote his true feelings. WTF???

Lezlie, I agree. Total yuck. I assumed that was going on, so it's not news, but it doesn't make it better. I'll write more on this "compromise" soon. Thanks for visiting. :)
Yeah, the old "I understand and care" hogwash....
You put this very well, there is no concern beyond re-election for any of them. Why the holdouts didn't seem to mind all the Repub debt ceiling raises, I'm not sure...
That said, it is fricking alarming that we ARE raising debt ceilings so ridiculously high while China is holding the IOUs...not smart, America, not smart at all.
That situation needs some wise attention.
Is there any?
I actually did get an intelligently written, on-message reply to a letter from my congressional rep many years ago, when I lived in California. He (or more likely, one of his staffers) was clearly paying attention, because the letter I received referred to specific details of my letter. My current representative--not so much. I understand and share your frustration.
I once worked for a couple weeks as a temp in an MP's office. We sent real responses - tho they were composed by an assistant and signed (by me!) with a stamp. I ha-e written to and recei-ed replies from our MP. They were pretty feeble and worthless, but at least were actual one-off letters that (-aguely) addressed the issue I was on about. I'm not sure which is more insulting - the ob-ious obli-ious form letter or the transparent attempt at a personal response... (sorry for the dashes where the lr between u and w should be - keyboard conking out...)
Kent, how about this as an honest response:
"Dear Kent, thank you for your recent response.

I understand your concern. Unfortunately, you have nothing to offer me except for a single vote. In other words, were I to vote in accordance with your wishes, there wouldn't be anything in it for me.

If you were able to offer me a substantial campaign donation -- something in the high six figures -- this would inspire me to consider your position more carefully. And if you could offer me some kind of golden parachute -- for example, a high-paid sinecure in a think tank or on a board of directors upon my departure from congress -- then I would give your position a most thorough consideration. Lacking that, we really have nothing to talk about.

You see, I am committed to a particular ideology. To be blunt, it is an ideology that pays. It is an ideology that I can take to the bank, and that will take care of me whatever happens and wherever I happen to end up. I suspect you would say that this ideology is not in the national interest. Well, we could argue about that all day. But at the end of the day it puts food on my table and gas in my car. And when I say that we should 'run government like a business,' that's what I'm talking about.

Thanks again Kent. Best wishes and good luck. You'll need it.

Sincerely," & etc.
I have little faith in a legitimate and genuinely concerned response. We will be reading between the lines for a long time to come. Unless you are contributing up front at a political rally or a thousand dollar a plate dinner for your front runner du jour.
Sounds like you ought to start plotting to make a regime change in your congressional district.
Mishima666 wrote an excellent letter which explains it all.

In the letter you received, it's very telling when he uses the "I" word rather than referring to the fact the he's supposed to be representing you (and not himself).
When I wrote to Senator Schumer [D, NY]regarding healthcare reform, he was, at least, honest; he simply thanked me for writing, "shared my concerns" [of course], and bluntly stated that he agreed with me, but my version would never pass. Not what I wanted to hear, but at least true.
Just Thinking, quite honestly, I don't think this is a problem that can be solved without spending. It's like losing your job but refusing to pay for gas to interview, to buy clothes to interview with, or to buy training in a skill that might get you hired. Sometimes you can get these things for free. But often you can't. And you can't sit there saying “I could get back to work if only I'd borrow money, but I refuse to borrow money.” Scary as it is, this is clearly the way out. The point was made very clearly on one of the MSNBC shows last night (maybe by Ezra Klein?) where it was said that the one thing we have going for us is that foreigners still want to lend us money at very low interest. The thing to look at is not the debt per se, though we have to spend the money we borrow wisely, but the debt service. If we can spend money that starts the economy, it is well worth the cost of the debt. Anything that gets the economy going is better than something that doesn't, since the long range potential of getting the economy going far exceeds the cost of paying back the debt. Saying we won't take on more debt but sitting here watching the economy shut down is actually creating more debt since we will soon be borrowing more, of necessity, to cover debt we can't cover by working. So probably before we're done we'll borrow more money later on either to cover having had jobs or we'll borrow more money later to cover not having had jobs. The former is clearly the right thing because it can stabilize; the latter is bad because it cannot. So the key is not to worry about the debt but to worry about the jobs.

Felicia, yes, I'm speaking mostly in the aggregate. There are, fortunately, still individuals out there doing their best to beat the averages. :)

Myriad, one could just say less, or expose the real process. “Thank you for your letter. I wish I had time to read letters personally, but because I'm busy, I have one of my interns read these things and summarize the the general trends. Thanks for being a data point.”

Mishima, a worthy (if sad) addition to the set of options.

Cathy, I'll take your response as an endorsement of Mishima's proposed response letter. :)

Lefty, we'll certainly be trying to figure out how to get a new rep, yes. We tried before, but apparently not enough.

Kanuk, it's a good point about the pronoun.

Sick, yeah, you can't have everything, but that's not too bad.