Letters, We Get Letters… The Ineffectiveness Of Writing Officeholders

I am on at least a dozen email lists of progressive or environmentalist organizations. Most of them sponsor petitions to members of Congress or the president’s cabinet or even the president on a variety of issues. Because it is so easy to “sign” them, I often do so. On a nationwide basis, they probably have some small effect.

But I live in a state and district in which John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison are my U.S. Senators, and John Culberson is my U.S. (Mis)Representative. Combining those with the prez’s propensity to “smile and smile and be a villain” … i.e., to advocate any good thing in public speeches in the grandest, finest of terms, only to undermine the very same things in his actual actions… I wonder whether I actually have anyone at all in Washington who truly represents me.

Gallup says that in 2010, about 20 percent of Americans classify themselves as “liberal.” In a fair democracy, a representative democracy, that would give liberals approximately 20 Senators and 87 House members. So where are my 107 advocates in Congress? I’m not even asking for direct representatives of my vote; I’m asking for an overall representation proportional to the percentage of people who hold views similar to mine.

But the lamentable fact is that American “representative” democracy has been broken from the beginning. The small-state-large-state problem assures that small (low-population) states are grossly overrepresented in the Senate. And the various districting schemes contrived by states assure that the majority not only rules, but overwhelms.

So why do I even bother to click the “Sign This” button in these email petitions? The districts in Texas assure that I will never have true representation here. Cornyn and Hutchison are my Senators-for-Life; Culberson is my Representative-for-Life; Goodhair Perry is my Governor-for-Life, unless I uproot and move to… to where? Vermont?

Lani Guinier, in her by-now-ancient book (1994) The Tyranny of the Majority, enumerates and describes many voting systems that are arguably far fairer than our typical first-past-the-post, two-candidates-predominant state and federal electoral systems. But The Powers That Be do not want a fair system, and apparently the weight of “tradition” is sufficient to allow them to prevent the implementation of such a system. Coupled with the Supreme Court’s recent decision that Free Speech Isn’t Free (i.e., corporations have speech rights comparable to individuals, and may spend unlimited money in the political arena), our “tradition” pretty well assures we will never have anything resembling control of our government, or in the case of liberals, even control of 20 percent of it.

I can’t help feeling that if Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he would be very, very displeased, perhaps displeased enough to… insert your own conclusion here.

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  • MandT  On Tuesday June 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    The last time I wrote Barbara Boxer about cuts in aid for the poor, elderly and disabled ( called In-Home Supports Services) that cover roughly 400,000 Californians and their care givers. She sent a curt reply that, in a nut-shell said: “Thank you for the note, but that is a State matter and I deal only on federal matters. ( ps. IHSS is also federally funded with state grants.) Our elected simply could give a damn.
    Maybe if I incorporated myself as a company such messages might get some attention!

    • Steve  On Tuesday June 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      MandT, once long ago I mistook Boxer for a liberal, and for a while joined a group that attempted to persuade her to run for president. Like you, I was eventually disillusioned.

      Apart from Bernie Sanders, I cannot think of a senator who even remotely represents my interests, personal or societal. That’s a sad statement, given there are 100 of those suckers to choose from. And the House… well, the House, even more than the Senate, is full of certifiable crazies. I used to ask myself how they ever got elected, but then the Money Guys (the Kochs etc.) organized the crazy voters into the Tea Party, and when they stood together I recognized for the first time just how many full-blown nut-cases there are among the voters.


  • c  On Tuesday June 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    I’ve actually had things work twice — once with Leon Pannetta and once with Eleanor Holmes Norton — but I agree that normally they are useless to the “constituents”. But I have the feeling that both times it benefited them ===know what I mean?

    • Steve  On Tuesday June 7, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      c – it’s not that I’ve never had any effect from writing a letter. Indeed, I once apparently convinced a Houston city councilmember to change his position on something, back in the 1970s. But given where I live and who “represents” me, I have absolutely no effect… none at all… on my senators and congressman. Forget it; I may as well not even open a window and type stuff.

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