What the right understands about their representatives that the left does not
It’s time to have a hard talk about how we interact with our Congressional representatives. How we see them, how we imagine our relationship is, and most importantly, how we hold them accountable.
There is a simple truth at play here — your representatives were sent by you to Washington to be your voice. And as your voice, you should expect them to speak how you would speak.
Time and time again, legislators on the left are given a pass for going back on their commitments.
When Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the executive in 2008, at a time of high criticism of the financial oligarchy in this country, they declined to prosecute any of the architects of the financial crisis, refused to bring criminal charges against banks, and continually chose to support capital over homeowners. And yet the spectre of party infighting and fear of not showing a united front forever kept them from being challenged from the left.
Free from any real threat, this behavior hasn’t stopped. Cory Booker voted against importing drugs from Canada, a longstanding progressive proposal that frequently gets vocal support amongst Democrats but consistently falls short when it’s actually time to vote. Senator Heitkamp from North Dakota, Senator Manchin from West Virginia and Senator Warner from Virginia, all Democrats, have voted to confirm every one of Trump’s cabinet nominees to date, despite widespread vocal opposition among the Democratic base.
Why does this keep happening? Because they are never held accountable.
The media likes to label the Tea Party and strict elements of the Republican party as extremists and reactionary. But they aren’t. They are simply voters who expect the people they put into office to do they job they were put there to do. That’s it.
And here is where we can see clearly the difference. The right understands that legislators are people employed by them. The left tends to imagine that their representatives are somehow one of them. That they’re teammates, that we get each other.
Because we’re all part of the same family, supposedly, our natural reaction is to forgive (almost immediately) rather than criticize. Instead of recognizing that we’ve been let down, the left bends over backwards to try to excuse their behavior. We find a way to construct a narrative in which they had no choice but to vote as they did. Or that it was a strategic sacrifice for some future gain . Even when that future gain never materializes. And it often doesn’t.
It’s time to stop this counterproductive attitude. Your representative doesn’t ‘get’ you. They are not your friends. They are people you hired to do a job. And it’s extremely easy, trivial even, to check if they are doing it or not. All congressional votes are a matter of public record. As are bills introduced, sponsored, debated etc.
When you call your representative and express how you feel, you should expect them to deliver results. You didn’t hire them to be a good listener. You hired them to do a job for you because you didn’t have the time to personally go to Washington and do it yourself.
A lot of us on the left are making calls and expressing our opinions on various issues right now. But what’s important, perhaps more important, is to also make a quick commitment to follow through a month from now and see if they actually did something or not. Download an app like Countable that will alert you every time your representative votes. Set up a Google news alert with your representatives names to get a quick email when they show up in the news. It takes 20 seconds to scan the headlines as they pop up in your email to see what they’ve been up to.
The course of action is simple. Incredibly simple. Hold your representative to a standard. And if they fail to live up to it, don’t vote for them again.
As progressives we can do better. We can be more effective. But it starts with being clear about getting our voices heard in Congress via those who we assign to speak for us. Don’t be afraid to lose faith in the ‘team’ if, in fact, you aren’t getting what you really want. You aren’t powerless against the mysterious twists and turns of the halls of government. In fact, you have all the power. It simply takes a commitment to expect better from those chosen to speak for you.
Your representatives in Congress may be the hands pulling the levers. But ultimately it’s up to you to make sure the job is getting done.