I must confess, I don't pay as close attention to some things as I used to. Time was many years ago, I would exhaust a subject. I mention it because I am having a hard time today understanding how anyone could highly value our Congress. I know from headlines and pundits on the background television that Congress is setting record low approval ratings almost weekly. The last I heard, Congress' approval ranking was somewhere near 18%. After today, I think the survey must be flawed. How could the rating be that high? And before some political science pundits or sociologists jump into the fray too much about how people hate Congress but love their own Senators and Representatives, I am going to have to call bs. Ask those same people if they have ever spoken to a Representative or Senator and got a common sense response. I am betting the yesses, and those who approve of Congress, are in the single digits. Why so glum?
Tuesday was shaping up to be a normal day. Orders of Worship and Prayers of the People were in my future. Then the phone rang, and it rang again, and my wife sent me a quick link. It seems that our beloved Congress has not been inspired to take up the question of Human Trafficking. As I Facebooked and included in my church Bulletin for the past five or six weeks, the William Wilberforce Trafficked Victims Protection Reauthorization Act is set to expire September 30. The TVPRA contains some of our best support in the fight to eliminate human slavery in the United States and around the world. As I printed and FB'd those notes over the last month, I had no doubt the bills (S.1301) and (H.R.2830) would pass. After all, who wants to be perceived as a supporter of human slavery during an election cycle when approval ratings are so low? Now I was being asked if I could help spur some movement on the part of politicians to get a no-brainer passed.
I won't throw specific Senators and Representatives under the bus, yet. After all, I have only spoken to staffers so far. I am willing to give the Senators and Representatives the chance to come around on this issue. Thus far, only 16 out of 100 Senators are sponsoring their version of the bill, and only 10 of 435 members of the House are sponsoring theirs. I have some patience, but it is likely to expire somewhere around midnight this Friday. But I do have a few observations I would like to share which might improve the image of Congress.
#1 You work for me and all your constituents. When your staffers speak to us with condescending voices reminding us just how valuable your time is, we begin to wonder whether you are the right person to represent us. If I am taking the time to reach out to you on an issue, your staffer better pretend to care. I am sure our time is at least equally valuable. For constituents to waste the time working through your labyrinth of gatekeepers is a pretty good indication that the issue is important to them. I would suggest hearing them out because in this day and age, social networking media gives them the ability to share with tons of people the wonderful attitude of your office and, by extension, you.
#2 Consider carefully the competing principles of the proposed bill and your party politics. While I can appreciate that there is a difference of opinion regarding immigration policy in this country, I am wondering if anyone outside of Congress believes that immigration principles trump human enslavement? Just to remind you, in case you have forgotten your American History, we fought a war about human slavery. More of our sons' blood was shed in that war than in any war we've fought. That fight was so bitter that it is still talked about today in some parts of the country. And you want me to think that there are important principles competing with a moral imperative? Most Americans think human slavery is bad. Most Americans are never going to believe that people are seeking to be enslaved so that they can claim amnesty and permanent residency status later under the TVPRA. Quit toeing the party line for politics' sake and get to work representing us.
#3 When your staffer promises to get back to constituents in a set amount of time (particularly when they are researching the bill we brought up because they and you know absolutely nothing about it), they really should follow through. I know. Courtesy in DC is dead. Important things can come up. Foreign powers might attack us, the economy might crash again, there might be an unexpected family emergency -- I get it. But when those things do not happen and your staffer does not return our call, we begin to think that they and you value your time far more than you value ours. After all, you set the tone for the office.
#4 Try hard not to BS us. The cliches and rambling answers work well with the press when they love you, but not so much with us. "The __________ has been too busy to add his/her name as a sponsor the past 6 weeks, but you can rest assured they will when they get the time" is a stupid answer, particularly regarding moral imperatives like human slavery. Yes, I know, the recess was so hectic. So much golf. So many trips. And the time spent in the air! Thanks to your staffer, you are now on record as saying that you are too busy to worry about those enslaved in our midst. You are too busy to fight the second or third largest illegal activity (guns and drugs being the other two). Unless the economic mess gets solved in the next few days or peace is restored to the Middle East, I'm not buying it.
#5 Your staffers should really pay attention to whom they are speaking. Anyone can tweet or fb or whatever, but some people have additional access to the press. Some of us get interviewed by the local press, you know, the ones that your constituents read, watch or listen to. Where before someone might count you and your staff an ally and a leader in the fight against human slavery, someone might now need to lament your seeming support of slavers or your seeming lack of interest in the fight to free slaves. Repeated over and over and it can become an unnecessary election issue for you.
It is late and I'll quit berating members of Congress for now. Who know, maybe the efforts to day went vial and their boxes were flooded with requests to join the fight? Maybe those staffers were exhausted and did not represent the mind of those Representatives and Senators to whom we reached out today. Maybe those Senators and Representatives will decide to put aside politics for a brief time and help us remind ourselves that we are the land of the free. But seriously, who are these people that think this way of doing business is good?