I have a confession. I’m not one of those suave guys who always does everything right. I once put diesel fuel in my car only to find out that diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline are not interchangeable. As an usher at a wedding I once seated relatives of the groom in the row designated for family, only to discover a few minutes later that they weren’t closely enough related to sit there. My request that they move has created a family rift that has endured for half a decade.
But one of the most foolish things I have ever done is contact federal politicians with the expectation that they would listen and respond to my concerns. Unfortunately, I seem to have a lot of company in making this mistake. Even today, after decades of federal politicians’ near-universal indifference to their constituents, many people seem to believe that if they can just organize a large enough number of people, they can effect change at the federal level.
Sorry, folks, it just ain’t gonna happen. I’ve contacted federal representatives of both parties over the course of my adult years and have gotten exactly the same amount of satisfaction from each occasion. Which is to say, none.
Mountains of evidence show that I’m not alone in this experience. Wide-spread outrage over the NSA spying program? Didn’t amount to enough cause for even one house of Congress to try to stop it. Massive opposition to corporate bailouts? Well, those proceeded without delay. It’s almost as if federal politicians are going to do whatever they want, irrespective of the desires of the people they allegedly represent.
However, there are other examples of the effective use of political pressure that have resulted in changing the positions of politicians. The difference is where such pressure has been applied.
A concerned citizen in Ohio recently contacted his state senator to ask him to take proactive action to secure the Second Amendment rights of Ohioans. The squeamish state senator replied by predictably stating that the states couldn’t stop federal legislation and offering the supposed reassurance that the feds would never take any action on this front (because, you know, the federal government typically pays close attention to restrictions on its own power).
What the state senator didn’t expect was that, with the help of the Ohio Tenth Amendment Center’s Scott Landreth, his response would go viral and his office would be flooded with protests about his stated unwillingness to do his job and protect the rights of the people he represents. Because of this unexpected backlash, another, this time unsolicited, e-mail was sent to the aforementioned constituent a few days later stating that the senator would indeed support any such legislation.
In Missouri, some Democrats are contemplating joining Republicans in overriding Governor Jay Nixon’s ignorant and cowardly veto of legislation that would protect that state from federal infringements of the Second Amendment. Obviously the Republicans that passed the legislation can be counted on to support an override, but many Democrats are also feeling the pressure to join.
On such Democrat is Ben Harris, who said, “Being a rural-area Democrat, if you don’t vote for any gun bill, it will kill you…if you vote against (the veto override), they’ll send one mailer every week just blasting you about guns, and you’ll lose.”
These sentiments show what we already know. That politicians are primarily motivated by the desire to keep their jobs. What they also show is that the closer the representatives are to the governed, the more likely they are to care about what their constituents think.
Federal representatives are completely unwilling to listen to the people. State politicians know that their careers depend on it. When it comes to applying political pressure, the old real estate maxim holds true: it’s all about location.