Is Ignoring Voter Anger A Wise Strategy?

Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

Town Hall style meetings have been a cornerstone of the political process in America since before its founding. Americans have a long tradition of directly interacting with both representatives and candidates on the issues of the day.  The Constitution guarantees the right to petition in the 1st Amendment.  “Congress shall make no law [. . .] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The Declaration of Independence lists a failure to redress grievances as one of the reasons for splitting with the monarchy. “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” The right to petition is as old as English law, tracing its roots to the implicit guarantees of the Magna Carta and the explicit guarantees of the English Bill of Rights of 1689. However, in America today, this does not mean politicians are obligated to listen to the public. “Nothing in the First Amendment or in this Court’s case law interpreting it suggests that the rights to speak, associate, and petition require government policymakers to listen or respond to communications of members of the public on public issues.” Minnesota Board for Community Colleges v. Knight, 465 U.S. 271 (1984).  With the manifestly undemocratic process of setting up “free speech zones” to stifle protests at political rallies, Town Hall events are (were) one of the last venues where the public can directly access their representatives without being a major campaign contributor or a corporate funded lobbyist.  The reasons our elected officials have given for canceling these events vary, but the bulk of the excuses narrow down to blaming the voting public for change,  some citing security in the aftermath of the Giffords shooting, others blaming grass-roots groups for commandeering the town halls.   Of course, some offered no rationale for slapping the voting public in the face other than simple greed by opting for smaller (sometimes private) or paid events.

As Washington has grown less responsive to what voters tell them and operate in the favor of monied special interests more openly than ever, the voting public has taken notice. An Associated Press-GFK poll recently showed that 87% (you read that right, eighty-seven percent) of Americans disapprove of lawmakers’ job performance.   In a democracy, the voters who no longer feel like they have a say in the political process have started to take their justifiable anger and frustration out on politicians whenever given the access to do so. Faced with vocal and public oppositions to policies unpopular with the public, some politicians have adopted a new tactic: ignoring the public and canceling Town Hall events while attempting to place the blame for their choice on the public for daring to criticize politicians or voice their displeasure at Town Hall meetings. When dealing with angry and frustrated people, let alone voters, is ignoring them a wise strategy? Or is it a recipe for even greater public anger and frustration at a system most already perceive as non-responsive?

Congress, by the terms of the Constitution, (allegedly) works for the interests of the People.  We the People are their constituents/clients.  In business, there are known strategies for dealing with angry clients.  Ignoring or avoiding them isn’t one of those strategies.  In general psychological terms, ignoring angry people isn’t a good idea.  It usually makes them angrier, especially if part of the root of their anger is feeling ignored.  The first step is to quickly acknowledge the person’s anger.  Ignoring them or worse, belittling, them will only compounds the problem.  Second, you must make it clear that you are actually concerned.  Faux concern or simple placating the angry client will only made them angrier in the long run.  Third, don’t rush them and never try to interrupt them or shut them up.  Sometimes merely venting is enough to assuage anger, but the best play is to simply listen.  You cannot fix a problem if you remain willfully ignorant of the problem and this includes understanding the grievances of angry voters.  Instead of dismissing them or avoiding hearing their grievances, remain calm and ask questions; that thing that real leaders are supposed to do when presented with a problem.  Fourth, get them talking about solutions . . . even if the solution is one you don’t personally like.  Problem solving isn’t a popularity contest, it’s finding a maximal solution to a problem no matter the source of the solution.  However, if you want rational discussion of a problem, you must be willing to discuss solutions.  Without discussing solutions, you will never reach an agreed upon solution.  If you cannot immediately agree upon a solution, set a timetable for discussing solutions.  When a solution is agreed upon, make sure it is specific and directly redresses the problem.  Worry about the cost of the solution later.  If you’re arguing about how much a patch costs when the hole in the ship’s hull eventually sinks it, you’re an idiot.  Once you’ve agreed upon a solution, then set a schedule for implementing the fixes and stick to it.

Does Congress avoiding confrontation with the justifiable anger of the voting public meet any of these pragmatic steps in resolving problems?

Is this just another sign that democracy is dead unless you’re a rich campaign contributor or a large corporation?

Is this simply adding fuel to the fire of public discontent with Washington’s “business as usual/pay to play” mentality?

Is it tone-deaf “talk to the hand” approach (combined with other tactics to diffuse/nullify free speech and the right to petition like “free speech zones”) simply asking for more trouble down the road given that non-responsive government was a direct cause of our Revolutionary War?

What do you think?

Sources: Huffington Post (1) (2)

~Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

32 thoughts on “Is Ignoring Voter Anger A Wise Strategy?

  1. Ignoring the public will be dangerous in the long run, but many in Congress are being paid by the government, but by their corporate masters via campaign donations and Citizens United type funds.

  2. You can tickle the tail of the dragon for only so long before the serfs reach for their pitchforks and torches. We are nowhere near that point now, but watch for it, it may come sooner than later. I see too many people for whom the cognitive dissonance has not yet reached the saturation point. When that time comes their brains cannot continue to deny the obvious and a sleeping giant will awaken.

    I can recall watching with clinical detachment what it took for the rabid right and Nixon supporters to slowly change. It was very slow at first, but then almost overnight they woke up to the fact their President was a common criminal who had surrounded himself with common criminals. It helped to have a media that did unusual things, such as–you know–actual investigative reporting.

  3. OS,
    you are right that the media in Nixon’s day were actually doing their job. The Watergate investigation would never happen today because the MSM would never run the story until it was already over.

  4. Gene:

    I think you are right, politicians need to pay attention to their constituents. But isnt that, how do you lawyers say it, patently obvious?

  5. Obvious or not does not change that they aren’t nor does it address the reason why they aren’t, Roco. When the uber-wealthy like the Kochs or corporations like GE call, the “elected” officials jump to it doing as they are told because it financially benefits them. Then when Joe and Mary citizen call, they get the finger. No matter how you look at the equation, the problem of dysfunctional democracy in America is caused political money. The graft monkeys in Congress can ignore the real 800 lb. gorilla is the room at their own peril while they continue to suck up campaign and lobbyist cash like hogs at a trough. When the shit hits the fan, who is going to be the first to catch the blow back? The puppets or the puppeteers? Both will get hit. History tells me so. However, the myopia and rank stupidity of Congress in ignoring that the vast majority of the population thinks they suck at their job of representing the interest of We the People pretty much guarantees pols will catch a load both hardest and first. By the time ordinary citizens go “real Tea Party” on corporations, it will already be too late. Anarchy will have begun in earnest. That Congress will be complicit in bringing about this outcome by their misdeeds and willful ignorance does not mean that pointing out such bad actions is without merit even if we are past the stability range of being able to avoid the coming tipping point. But once that tipping point is reached, pols, people like the Kochs and other corporate graft merchants will be in as much – in some cases greater – danger than anyone from the now likely inevitable social and political implosion of their creation.

  6. In too many instatnces I think it’s more about the money,
    where it comes from and under what conditions than about what voters actually want or need. I think the recent
    Supreme Court ruling concerning campaign financing is a
    great detriment to elections that are decided on the free
    and unencumbered discussion of the issues.

  7. This is a fine post and I commend its writer.

    I would like to add that the recent attempt by our seditious, Marxist, subversive, evil-doer-in-chief Barack Hussein Obama to make a speech before a joint session of congress the same evening that a long scheduled and important political event by his opponents (a Republican Debate) was to occur fits in with the type of contempt despots tend to have for their opponents as characterized in the Declaration of Independence when Jefferson wrote:

    “He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures…”

    In this case our ruthless communist president who would love nothing less than the destruction of our form of government sought to make those engaging in the legitimate processes requisite to ensuring our liberties and freedom political process very “uncomfortable”. And sought to “fatigue” them.

    It’s a big joke to the clown in chief.

    Many of these attendees are traveling long “distances” to speak. Many have assistants with them who also made long ranged plans to attend the event. All have paid for their tickets, rearranged family and businesses schedules, and so forth. Some of speakers indeed are members of congress. All of them have families who are impacted by the contemptuous whims of our ruthless president.

    He thinks nothing of upsetting the whole nation with his cruel pranks. The American people on the edge and he wants it that way. He hopes to provoke rebellion. Not to better America like in the Revolution, but to murder those who cannot take his games anymore.

  8. Note that, for two weeks, people have been demonstrating on the sidewalk in front of the White House to object to the tar-sands pipeline to be built through Yellowstone. Petitioning the government to not destroy the world. The response of the Flower Police has been to cancel the permit and then arrest everyone who won’t leave on their own.

    This is dumb politics and also to my mind also unconstitutional.

    The permit procedure appears not so much to be a way to allow demonstrations, as a way to break them up.

    The interest which demands that the demonstrations be dispersed is that some tourist “might” not be able to see the beautiful fountain in front of the White House. The court have held:

    1) Stare decisis on whether esthetics can be a basis for a regulation (by the Parks Department). Are we going to fix fashion in the 1970’s then, by law?

    2) The infringement is insubstantial. So would hopping on one foot every so often. The question is does the infringement serve to protect this mystical interest in seeing the fountain. This is the “keep walking” regulation, which when someone stops, cancels the permit, followed by the order to disperse, which of course the demonstrators won’t do, because the demonstrators want to be arrested.

    Street Theatre at its finest. Should be covered in the culture and arts section of the paper. Two week run, Front row seats only $100. But why do the courts put up with what amounts to contempt of court, contempt of the judicial process, by all involved. Beats me.

  9. Tootie,

    Yes, conducting business critical to the national security interests of this nation (resolving the unemployment problem) is sooooo much more important than whoring, er, campaigning. The malfunction and malfeasance of the government is not a partisan issue. It’s a structural issue. When you go all partisan ballistic? You’re playing directly into the hands of the corporations that control organizations like the Tea Party. Why? Because you are distracting from the point, namely that government is not responsive to problems that average citizens are concerned about. Right now, there is little that is of more concern to average Americans than getting the economy rebooted and the middle class back in play. But it interferes with your particular brand name of clowns going out and “speech-ifying” while doing a grand total of nothing to address the grievances of the people. You not only missed the point, you landed at a different airport.

    Planned Parenthood is going to make a fortune off of you.

  10. Hey guys, you have to admit that 2T is not your ordinary right wing troll. She has elevated trolldom to the level of a vaudeville slapstick act. That is a high bar to cross for any imitators. She is the Michelle Bachmann of the intertoobz. About the time you think she has reached her apogee, she outdoes herself.

  11. Gene, Yeah, they just got another $5, although it was close as her post stays in the real world as closely as Nuttie can.

    Nutty, who do you see as acceptable? My guess it is one of the orange haired beauties in the Republican clown car, perhaps Mr. Paul? You will never understand that you are hurt by these people who will take everything from you & give it all to the takers on Wall Street. Thats what you are missing – the money kids that make nothing but profits. They sell garbage like credit default swaps and suck money out of the system. Money that would make your life easier. But these takers have made you believe they are the makers. The people who work for a living, scraping by on little or nothing, sick with worry about how close to the edge they are; how close to homelessness, bankruptcy and poverty. But these takers will suck every dime from us for their own aggrandizement.

    And you want to help them because they have convinced you that people just like you are the takers. They wrap it up in religion and patriotism and sell you on the idea that you can join them if only you crush the government. The government is the only entity strong enough to protect us makers from the takers on Wall Street so they want you to kill it. Then we will all get to face the full force of these takers and you’ll be left to wonder why you ever hated the only people who could have prevented the coming disaster.

  12. I live in a Constitution-based federal republic with a strong democratic tradition. My government’s source of power lies with the people and government itself is limited to the power given to it by the people. Therefore it can only act using powers given to it by the people and does not derive its power from itself.

    As one of the people I acknowledge that not all of the people will agree with me as to how much power the government should be granted. So I enter the political process to make my views heard and to try and convince others to support those views. I do so with respect for those whose views differ from mine. Sometimes my views prevail; sometimes they don’t, and sometimes I accept a compromise. What I don’t do is give up.

    I am as politically active today at the age of 65 (okay, almost 66) as I was in my 20’s. It’s a little harder now because I don’t have as much energy so I pick my battles/causes with care.

    I live in a Constitution-based federal republic with a strong democratic tradition. It’s my responsibility to uphold that Constitution and so I do. I put up, I don’t shut up.

  13. Gene,

    This is a country where Monarchy, big daddy, isn’t here to take care of us … we are the government. I’ve never understood why so many of our citizens fail to grasp the fact that one of the basic principles of the Constitution is Popular Sovereignty. Government exists to serve the will of the people and if one doesn’t express that will on a continuing basis then one is not upholding the Constitution. Period.

  14. Tootie-

    I wasn’t aware that you had so much respect for the Machiavellian Marxist seditious despotic mastery of intrigue of Barack Hussein Obama to schedule a speech in Congress at the same time as the Republican Freak Show. I personally attributed that, and the instant cave in to the Republicans and change of date to the fact that Barack Hussein Obama is simply a common garden variety spineless doofus. He has more Cosmo Cramer in him than he has Niccolo Machiavelli or Karl Marx. You give him way too much credit. He’s perfectly harmless and you have nothing to fear.

  15. Blouise,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Well . . . I suppose I could, but that would just be conspicuous concurrence.😀

  16. Gene,

    That was a thoughtful and great post. Blouise as a senior citizen peer I’m with you. Nevertheless, as I read through the post I had this thought percolating in the back of my mind. Since the 70’s at least a lot of thought and money has gone into Right Wing propaganda/strategy for their political resurgence. It was accelerated in the 80’s by the election of an actor to play President, backed by excellent PR strategists and the takeover off all three networks by highly conservative corporate interests. The overriding meme sold to the American public was “government is bad and hurts you”. This meme separates people from the government it rightly should rule and that is constitutionally constructed to act in their interests. It is their government, but most have been alienated from it conceptually and thus no longer feel a part of it.

    At the same time time, with 50% or less of the eligible voters exercising their franchise generally, politicians feel free to cater to the interests of the wealthy elite, who finance their campaigns of voter deception which only have to fool half of the people some of the time. At some point there will be an upheaval. This in itself becomes problematic because the history of revolutions peaceful or not, is one where those infected most with the “will to power” eventually prevail and the principles fought for are “redefined” of forgotten.

  17. As Martin said above….They are not playing fair…they canceled the permits and then cited the protesters for disorderly conduct….Seem that they cake bites are getting smaller and smaller and they have become stale…

  18. Mike Spindell,

    Much of what you wrote in the post at 10:48a is true regarding the conservative effort to separate the citizenry from their government but that is all the more reason to stand firmly in upholding the Constitution by constantly reminding everybody that they and the government are one.

    “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” is pure bullshit.

    Popular Sovereignty – the source of governmental power lies with the people. Government should be for the benefit of its citizens. Limited Government – The people give government its power. US government does not derive its power from itself. It must follow its own laws and it can only act using powers given to it by the people.

    Circumstances within society are always changing and it is the people’s responsibility to see that the government adapts to those changes. Each citizen is responsible to every other citizen to express his/her views on the state of government and work for the change that he/she believes is necessary. If one is always waiting for the other guy to take action and doing nothing himself then he is not upholding the Constitution.

    I’ve long recognized what the right-wing has been trying to do (It started long before Reagan) and damn it, I’ll keep on fighting to defeat their aims because I want a government that strives to serve all the people (not just the protestant/white/male). Sometimes I win (civil rights), sometimes I lose (the Bush boys) and sometimes I compromise (Clinton/Obama).

  19. “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” is pure bullshit.”


    You don’t know how much I appreciate your saying that. I was 16 when I heard Kennedy make his inaugural speech and I was a great Kennedy supporter. When he said that though, even at that tender age, it was a WTF moment for me. It just seemed so wrong and so against what this country stands for. JFK, however, was a WWII vet and quite the “cold warrior”, in light of that mindset a statement like that made sense. That the whole group of Beltway people, who considered themselves foreign policy adults, was proven so wrong by Viet Nam was just an example of the hubris which JFK shared. Without going into the whys and the wherefores I still believe he was killed by people who didn’t think his anti-Communism went far enough.

  20. Mike Spindell,

    “Without going into the whys and the wherefores I still believe he was killed by people who didn’t think his anti-Communism went far enough.”

    I agree and I blame the CIA.

    As to the quote “Ask not … etc.” … I did a bit of research on that many years ago for a study the LWV was doing and found several earlier versions … one from a professor at Harvard in the early 1900’s referring to the student body and their Alma Mater and another from an English politician in the late 1800’s: “The first duty of a citizen is to consider what he can do for the state and not what the state will do for him.” (St. John Broderick) … fine and dandy for a constitutional monarchy and a university (rah, rah) but not for a Constitution-based federal republic.

    I did not excuse JFK for that … because he had fought valiantly to protect this Constitution and because he knew his history … it was a nice one-liner and he should have resisted the temptation to use it … it was an ignorant move and it was harmful in that it undermined one (maybe two) of the six principles upon which the Constitution is based.

    Of course I realize much of that speech was meant for the ears of our enemies but we could have done without that line.

  21. Ignoring the public is the vade mecum of Republicans and they have a remarkable record of “getting away with it.” The only place it has not happened is Wisconsin.

  22. what is truly being ignored by all is the ones who truly run our government i.e the rockerfellers,rothchilds,royal family of england,duponts,bushs,kennedys, jp morgan. and a few others. they used to try to hide their actual plans for us. now they are doing it right in the open as they feel We the people can NOT stop them. they only allow you to think your vote counts. every president since eisenhower has been a puppet of the elites and put there for a purpose. how else did a drug addict/alcoholic get into the devil house? anyone not doing what they’re told and trying to warn the people are destroyed or killed i.e. lincoln and kennedy. these people own everything holly wood, the music industry, the msm. wall street, the pharmaceutical industry, and especially both sides of the government. everything done is to distract you from their real purpose and from what i can see they have succeeded to a degree. there are those who know the truth and are fighting to inform the people.

    but as usual you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink!! you can put the truth in peoples faces and they will still refuse to believe it. because its not the truth they want to live. I await the day the whole world asks themselves since driving is a right not a privilege why must we ask the government for permission via license? when will they ask themselves why must the tax payers pay every time a government agency aka law enforcem ent gets sued and loses? why must we pay for stadiums, bridges, trees, and businesses that have nothing to do with our everyday lives. and why hasnt anyone from the government or wall street gone to jail for stealing trillions from us. yet civilians go to jail for stealing 10.00. our government is now a corporation who caters to the rich anyone not in a certain money bracket is considered poor there is no more middle class. they have achieved that goal of breaking them so that now there is only 2 classes. the rich and the poor and what exactly will be the use of the poor.


  23. “Of course I realize much of that speech was meant for the ears of our enemies but we could have done without that line.”


    I agree with all of your comment. JFK was unfortunately a committed “Cold
    Warrior” and so felt the need to establish his bona fides with the whole Beltway Crew of Foreign Policy “Wise Men”. The USSR was a threat to the world, but they judged the threat in terms of Munich and Chamberlain’s sell out of the Czechs. The threat of communism was in that era, where people were throwing off the yoke of colonialism, Communists were sympathizing with their struggles, while the US (“Free World”) was backing the colonial people’s oppressors. It wasn’t then a struggle of economic systems, but of who seemed to be the allies and who the enemy.

    For instance, of course Castro looked towards a sympathetic USSR, since the US had continually supported Fulgencio Batista and his bloody regime.
    They initially looked at Viet Nam and totally misunderstood what was happening there. This was a long war to throw off French oppression and exploitation and Ho Chi Minh was a hero to the majority of Vietnamese who were not French hangers-on. The USSR was indeed a horrible place, but in a long term perspective Russia was better off than under the Tsars, even though almost equally oppressed.

    By viewing the world from strictly economic terms the “Cold Warriors” lost sight of what this country is supposed to stand for and in doing so lost the sympathy of the people throwing off oppression and pushed them into the hands of the Communists. They were Generals fighting a previous war and due to that their ability to see outside the box of corporate self interest doomed all of us to live through and era of fear and diminution of our
    Constitutional rights.

  24. Mike Spindell,

    That “Cold Warrior” mentality is still with us as both the Bush boys and their willing lackey, Cheney, have proven.

    I am not a pacifist and to quote a truly comic figure from the Nixon era, Gordon Liddy,… as a Charlie the Tuna I am very much aware that Jaws is swimming in my pool. However, I prefer smart generals to dumb ones and far thinking CIA directors to short sighted screw ups like Tenet.

    The experiment of putting all these inbred, Skull and Bones type, protestant, white, males in positions of authority has failed. They don’t have the intellectual ability to understand the Constitution nor the discipline to abide by it.

  25. Exclusive: The Koch Brothers’ Million-Dollar Donor Club
    —By Gavin Aronsen| Tue Sep. 6, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

    “In a speech that is part of these recordings, Charles Koch thanks donors who gave more than $1 million to the cause. We checked the audio against a list of participants at the Kochs’ 2010 seminar in Aspen that was obtained by and did additional research on these individuals. Below are the names Koch read that appeared on the previous guest list.”

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