My belief that too many people don’t know how their government works is challenged at times by some faithful readers. At the same time, however, they often offer more proof to substantiate my claim.

One recent correspondent demanded Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) go back to Washington DC with instructions from the people who attended a Douglas County “Town Hall” disturbance in DeFazio’s Southwest Oregon district. Those loud voices, the writer said, demanded DeFazio oppose taxes and any health plan. Period! The will-of-the-people as it were. Do it or else.

I don’t often respond to letter writers … critical or not … because I welcome and respect their opinions. Most of the time. While I respect this one, it serves as good grist for some civics education.

DeFazio and I have a tenuous relationship. He’s taken me to task and I him. But, this time, the little fella needs some help. In his defense, in 30 days or so, he had some 16 public meetings with constituents. He heard many voices giving him many opinions and more than a few marching orders. But here’s a quick civics lesson.

DeFazio is a Democrat. He almost always loses Douglas, Josephine, Jefferson, Curry and Coos Counties in his district come election time. So when he gets together with people in those counties, the plain fact is he probably hears from more people who won’t vote for him than will. Pure statistical reality.

But … and this is political reality … Lane County around Eugene has more Democrats than Republicans. A lot more. Enough, so far, to offset DeFazio’s vote losses in the other five counties. He holds meetings in all areas and he hears from folks in all. The operating word here is “ALL.” And you can bet the farm what he hears in Douglas, for example, is not quite like what he hears in Lane. Where he wins election after election with good margins.

So marching orders from his flock can be terribly inconsistent and sometimes contradictory. What our loud correspondent heard at his local meeting is likely not what DeFazio heard at some others.

Another reality: people elected to Congress can’t vote the way all the voices at home would like. Founding fathers never intended that. If they had, some awfully old men would still be meeting in Philadelphia, trying to get past the issue of slavery.

So here’s what those fathers did. They set up elections for senators every six years and representatives every two. The idea was the lower house would be closer to the people and shorter terms would make them more responsive to political issues of the day. Still a good idea.

When people are elected to Congress, the best we can hope for is that they will read the bills before them and cast an informed vote. That’s it. When each representative has hundreds of thousands of people at home, who have thousands of ideas about this, that and other, no one can cast a vote on anything to please all.

DeFazio says he read whichever health care bill he was talking about. I believe him. I’d bet the farm the letter writer had not. So who was more informed? DeFazio says he or his key staff read them all. I believe him. But have people attending the district meetings done likewise? Or sat through hundreds of hours of hearings listening to all arguments for and against? Doubtful.

The term “town hall” meeting for congressional district get-together’s is a misnomer. Real town hall meetings were where local citizens and local town elders got together to deal with local issues and decide a course of local action. You can’t do that with 400,000 people in a congressional district. There’s nothing “town hall” about it. Better we call them “issue meetings” or “listening tours.”

Nothing here is to say people shouldn’t attend these meetings, listen to what the congressman says, give the congressman your ideas and have an informative session. Great way to do the people’s business.

But far right and far left single issue politics are killing effective communication and, thus, endangering real democracy. “You’re either with us on this one issue (health care, abortion, taxes, etc.) or we’re against you.”

Democracy doesn’t mean getting your way all the time. But it does mean listening to the other guy’s words and respecting that he, too, is as entitled to be heard as yourself. And he probably feels just as strongly as you do.

Bottom line: in politics, the answer is always … always … negotiation and give-and-take. DeFazio knows that. And nose counting. Some of his louder constituents need to learn it.

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