If there is one thing that politicians do not like (and there are many), it is being held accountable, especially in the form of answering direct questions. Generally, they don’t answer such questions. They talk, and talk, but they don’t often answer. Town Hall meetings, a most cherished democratic tradition, have been the venue of extreme discomfort for elected officials the past few weeks. Angry constituents have placed so many politicians on the hot seat in these meetings that many are opting out of the traditional venue and hiding behind conference calls where questions can be screened, and ignored.
In recent weeks over 23 elected officials have opted for the safety of conference call bunkers in place of face to face town halls, including Tom MacArthur (NJ), Carlos Cubelo (FL), Martha McSally (AZ), Ron DeSantis (FL), Ken Buck (CO), Chris Stewart (UT), Mike Kelly (PA), Matt Gaetz (FL), Brian Babin (TX), Michael Burgess (TX), Randy Weber (TX), Kay Granger (TX), John Culberson (TX), Peter Roskam (IL), Dan Donovan (NY), Patrick Meehan (PA), Rodney Davis (MI), Barbara Comstock (VA), Elise Stefanik (NY), Bill Huizenga (PA) and Mike Bishop (MI). The fact that they are all Republicans may or may not be a coincidence. Nevertheless, they are hunkering down with their security blankets, to avoid the fate of their fellow officials.
In a recent Town Hall meeting, Senator Tom Cotton had to deal with two hours of direct democracy, peppered with questions on immigration, healthcare and the actions of the Trump Administration. Flustered and unable or unwilling to directly answer simple questions, he was not the only senator this past week to hear chants of “Do you job”.
Representative Buddy Carter was so overwhelmed by his constituents and their taxing questions regarding the Trump Administration, he hid behind the Bible and defended President Trump by stating “I am not here to tell you Donald Trump is perfect. I am not here to tell you I agree with everything he has done. Those of you who have studied the Bible know that God has used imperfect people to do great things before”.
Senator Joni Ernst, 45 minutes into her town hall meeting, abruptly left to loud jeers and chants of “Your last term”.
And finally, (but probably not if politicians again venture forth among the people), the people are proving more informed and educated than their political servants, as Representative Tom Reed got schooled by a woman over his remarks on Planned Parenthood. Reed made the mistake of sharing his canned position, stating “I do not support taxpayer-funded paying of abortion”. Amid the boos a woman quickly educated him on what he should know (or does and ignores) when she said “You, an elected official, are giving misinformation. Right now, our taxes do not pay for abortions, they pay for mammograms, they pay for birth control. Planned Parenthood, less than 3 percent of the services they provide is abortion. And none of that 3 percent is funded by you” she noted just in case he did not get the message. She was apparently referring to the Hyde Amendment.
Today’s pitchforks and torches come in the form of an enraged electorate armed with fact-checking tools and one of democracy’s oldest traditions, the Town Hall, hostile territory for those politicians unable or unwilling to take responsibility, assume accountability and simply, listen to the people you serve. Has Democracy (re)awakened?