By Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA)
and Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services
Over two hundred years ago, America's founding fathers established a constitutional republic based on the audacious notion that the interests of its citizens would be best served by a wise body of their democratically-elected representatives. In the two centuries that have since transpired, that bold experiment has largely been a success. But we should also realize our system only works when the interests of voters and their government are in harmony. Unfortunately, recent evidence suggests that America's hard-working hometown legislators are feeling the pinch from a fickle and increasingly out-of-touch voter class who no longer serves our needs.
Nowhere has this disturbing trend been more evident than in the recent debate over health care reform. Like hundreds of our fellow legislators and government officials, we recently traveled to a town hall meeting to distribute a grassroots press release explaining why this critical legislation is a done deal. Our advance staffs said that should anticipate a respectful, positive hearing from local media and bused-in union members. Instead we were greeted by a rude howling mob of idiot "voters" who refused to listen to reason, and ruined what should have been a killer photo op for our re-election ad campaign.
Have these arrogant ivory tower armchair quarterbacks ever had to live with the pressures of being a working stiff Senator or Cabinet Secretary in Washington DC? Have they ever had to juggle markup language on a supplemental appropriations bill, or deal with an incompetent Chief of Staff who constantly double-books fund raising dinners? Apparently not, if their whiny obnoxious chants are any indication. "Read the Bill! Read the Bill!" blah, blah, blah, as if we weren't already exhausted from writing and voting for the damned thing.
Sadly we have begun hearing similar stories told with increasing frequency; in the Senate Dining Hall, at the Palm, in the Green Room at MSNBC. From hardworking legislators like Tom Perriello and Lloyd Doggett, who have been forced to seek police protection from angry mobs of unregistered self-lobbyists bent on publicly asking them awkward policy questions. So far we have been able to avoid tragedy, but our security people have warned us it is only a matter of time until one of these nuts sneaks in with their own loaded microphone.
It wasn't always like this. Certainly, legislators and government officials have always had to deal with the annoyance of obtrusive constituents. But there was always a belief that somehow, between election campaigns, we would muddle along despite the constant threat of voter interference. Those of us who survived the horrors of November 1994 worked hard to design important safety net protections, such as revolving doors, redistricting, earmarks, and franking privileges, in a bipartisan effort to insure "Never Again." And with the inauguration of President Obama in January, there was an optimistic sense that the era of Big Voter was finally over.
Sadly, that brief shining Camelot in Washington has suddenly been replaced by a new Dark Ages, with hordes of placard- and plague-carrying voter vermin pouring up from the sewers of our home districts, threatening us and our very re-elections. Across Washington, hundreds of everyday legislators and consultants are paralyzed by fear, wondering where these these intrusive bubonic boobs will strike next.
The reasons for this are difficult to understand, but the results are clear: we have come face-to-face with a national crisis of confidence, as America's struggling government increasingly loses faith with its electing class. A recent Rasmussen tracking poll showed American Voters getting a paltry 23% approval rating from members of Congress and the Executive branch, and only 17% from members of the media. The toxic atmosphere caused by out-of-touch voters has been especially corrosive for Washington's youngest legislative aides and undersecretaries, many of whom now express outright cynicism and contempt for our system of unelected and unaccountable citizens. And with the growing credibility gap between what constituents tell our polling consultants and what they scream at our town halls, who can blame them?
Enough is enough. It's time for us to get out our pitchforks and tell the Outside-the-Beltway gang that we're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it any more. We are the little guy, the junior senator from some godforsaken Nebraskansaw, just looking to make that subcommittee with the big contributor action. That fresh young regulatory agency head who only wants to test that bank nationalization idea from her Harvard term paper. We are the people who get up every day, work hard, and play inside the rules. Most of the time. And if one of us accidentally plays outside one of those rules, then, by golly, the rest of us will make sure to modify that rule so he's still playing inside the rules. And we're tired of getting pushed around the town hall by the likes of you, Big Voter.
Will our call-to-arms spark a grassroots movement among Government-Americans to take our town halls back? Call us irrepressible optimists, but we have high hopes. Because we still believe in the American ideal that one man, with a staff of 83, and a chair on an $800 billion subcommittee, and an iPhone full of contact numbers, can still make a difference.
In the end, democracy means that voters get the government they deserve. In fairness, shouldn't we get the voters we deserve?