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. 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.

  2. 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…

  3. 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).

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

    Blouise,

    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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    SOON AS THE PEOPLE OPEN THEIR EYES AND REALIZE THAT. THEN THE REVOLUTION WILL BEGIN AND THEN THE FIGHT TO TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY WILL BEGIN. BUT ONLY THEN WILL THEY THROW OFF HUNDREDS OF YEARS OF BEING DUMBED DOWN AND DISTRACTED

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

    Blouise,

    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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 ThinkProgress.org and did additional research on these individuals. Below are the names Koch read that appeared on the previous guest list.”

    http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/09/koch-brothers-million-dollar-donor-club

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