Loss of hearing is a sign of aging. Likewise, one sign a politician has been there too long is loss of listening. It’s easy when you win elections with 70% of the vote. How much can the opinions of those other actually 30% matter? Why consider the 55% who don’t bother to register to vote?
Senator Mike Enzi told the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, “Most people aren’t interested in what I’m saying.” He thinks they just want to “deliver their message.” Actually, Senator, it’s both. Many want to let you know how they feel while asking you to explain yourself.
For example, at a town hall, you could explain how Republicans spent years trying to repeal Obamacare but had no replacement. What does the Chairman of the Budget Committee think of Trump’s budget-busting $21 billion wall and $54 billion increase in military spending?
You could hear the angst about Trump’s murky relationship with Russia among those who don’t worship the Republican brand. You voted to convict Bill Clinton for lying about marital infidelity but ignore the national security implications of Jeff Sessions’ and Michael Flynn’s perjury and Trump’s delusional Tweets.
At town hall meetings, you’d be asked why you know better than the majority of Americans who think Trump should release his income tax returns. Why do you oppose term limits while 77% of Wyoming voters supported them in a statewide election with polls showing stronger support today? Why did you vote to allow seriously mentally ill people to buy guns?
Think about it. It’s understandable that voters attending your colleagues’ town hall meetings chant, “Do your job.”
Senator Enzi assures those asking him to hold town hall meetings that he doesn’t need public gatherings in order to get the information he needs to do his job. He says he speaks “with a lot of people in different parts of the state” when home on weekends and during congressional recesses. He says that in the past he has held what he calls “listening sessions” and “will consider some in the future.”
He holds telephone conference calls and meets “with people and groups almost daily both in Wyoming and with Wyoming folks who come to Washington.” He assures constituents that town hall meetings are not necessary. They can contact his office or send an email.
To a naïve voter or true-Red supporters, that may seem sufficient. It may even sound as though he’s actually listening. It is, however, an admission that he’s been there too long and has grown too comfortable building walls between him and those who have opinions differing from his conservative base.
Are the encounters he describes reasonable substitutes for face-to-face town hall meetings? Most of the alternatives place a staff person between him and the constituent. You call or email and who gets the message? Who drafts the response? Meetings with special interest groups, whether in Wyoming or Washington, are a poor substitute for listening to real people.
Saying you’re listening is different from actually hearing. Politicians who’ve been in office too long can easily deceive themselves into believing that they are hearing when they are not. A town hall meeting would relieve Mike Enzi of that burden. A town hall meeting is where Mr. Enzi will encounter folks the Senator doesn’t hear from in the normal course of his meanderings. A town hall meeting is where the Senator will see the faces and hear the voices of those who are afraid or angry and he’ll feel their raw, unrehearsed emotion in a way that can never be conveyed by an email or a phone call answered by a member of his staff.
During a town hall meeting, Mr. Enzi will be reminded that the sum total of all of his GOP supporters and the special interest groups that fawn over him does not equal the public’s interest in what he does.
The President claims people who come to town hall meetings are paid to do so. They are not, but Senator Enzi, you are.