Friday, March 5, 2010

Hansen: Let's elect a better Congress

Another window opens on the mind of Executive Editor Ben Hansen.

Ben kicks off his first pseudoblog post in over ten weeks with a scintillating quote from a dictionary, finally proving long-held reader suspicions that he does indeed have access to one in his office. (Having established that, perhaps Ben will go on to look up the definition of "blog" and start using the word less ignorantly.) But then he immediately goes on to demonstrate how reading a definition does not necessarily lead to better usage.

"The traditional paradigm for choosing members of Congress is to re-elect incumbents." No, Ben, "paradigm" does not mean "something that happens often."

This is of course to introduce yet another reiteration of Ben's slapdash prejudices against politicians. Then, having painted all pols as venal and corrupt, he sets out suggestions for electing better ones. I have to wonder what these better ones would look like, since in Ben's world, once they're elected, they're corrupt -- by definition (urk, sorry).

He does get the first point right: Pay attention. He doesn't cover how to go about that, but I'd infer that he expects readers to try to get their information from the Courier, conveniently filtered through Ben's political interpretations -- like the other four points he offers.

Contrary to what he promises, three of those points are focused on incumbents in office rather than electing anyone. Here's a better idea, voters: if you want to be heard by your political representatives, you have to treat them as real people with a serious job to do rather than unindicted co-conspirators. Communicate clearly, succinctly and respectfully.

Notice also how point four illustrates Ben's lack of imagination and inability to control his propaganda reflex: "On illegal immigration, if you're a Democrat make them take a stand on amnesty. If you're a Republican, make them take a stand on getting control of the border." Classy, Ben.

On the final point, Ben clearly assumes that everyone identifies with a political party and trusts it, demonstrating how out-of-touch he is with people in general.

We all want smart, skilled, energetic and dedicated public servants. We will never get them by disparaging the profession and disrespecting anyone who strives to serve. Here are some alternative ideas for encouraging better representation:

1. Pay attention to your whole community, not just your pet issues. Keep an eye out for people who know how to bring people together and get things done, and talk to them positively about getting involved in public service.

2. Spend some time and effort building some detailed understanding of the issues your community faces. Don't trust your prejudices, which are what most people think of as "common sense." More than skilled representatives, a community needs informed voters to operate sensibly. How? Ask open questions as close to the source as you can get. Representatives are real people with office hours, and they will meet with you, read your letters and respond.

3. Show up at the forums, talk with candidates and get to know them as people rather than test them for the 'right' answers on your favorite issues. Vote for people who care about consensus and against those who are married to specific ideas.

4. Turn off your teevee. You won't find any useful information there.

5. Show up and vote.

6. After the election, advocate respectfully for what you want the community to do -- this is another kind of voting -- and don't act like a whiny baby if you're not getting your way. No one wants to hear from non-adults.

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