What’s Really Going on in Politics? A Dozen Questions

The phone rang just after dinner the other night, and it turned out to be my very own local Member of Congress on the phone — it was a Conference Call Town Hall meeting. I stuck around and listened; what interested me wasn’t so much what he had to say (boilerplate, obviously), but what my fellow constituents were thinking. As far as I know, the call dialed everyone in the local area, and questions were taken at random. Over the course of the hour, 13 people asked questions. The first one was the best: Is that really you? You don’t sound like the Congressman? Here are the other 12 questions or comments that my fellow Bexar Countians asked when their Member of the House called them last night; in each case, I just jotted down the general topics, not the wording; some of them, as you might expect, were not particularly clear.

1. Why are we cutting spending on schools at the same time were spending money to educate convicts in prisons?

2. Government spending should be what percentage of GDP (this caller sounded drastically overeducated. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)?

3. What percentage of federal spending goes to Israel and other foreign countries?

4. Will a Constitutional balanced budget pass soon?

5. Two parts — how much has tort reform in Texas cut insurance premiums? And, cut congressional pay!

6. TSA question: why don’t we do it the way Israel does?

7. Are you cutting defense? Medicare? Social Security?

8. Are we going to starve the beast (that is, cut government spending; the caller used the “starve the beast” phrasing)?

9. From a military family (as were several other callers; Bexar County is military-heavy); Worried about a government shutdown stopping military pay; also, worried about Medicare cuts, because her husband is just under 55, the cutoff age.

10. Oil prices are way up because of market speculation; will anyone do anything about it?

11. Something about secrecy…hard to follow, but I think the caller was saying that it was great that they managed to keep the raid on OBL secret, but isn’t keeping other things secret a problem (in the sense of anti-leaks, not pro-transparency)?

12. Congress always exempts itself from all the laws it passes, and Congressional pensions are abusive (apparently both taken from a current emailed bunch of nonsense).

Again, I find these interesting because if the constituents are anything like me, they had no prep time or anything for their questions. That doesn’t mean that they’re a representative sample of what people are thinking, of course. First of all, I’m sure that only a very small subset of whatever the calling area was stuck around on the phone, and then obviously only a small number of those asked questions — and in each case, those who self-selected were almost certainly the most politically active and interested constituents. But to me at least, it was interesting to hear what that subset had on their minds, or thought was worth asking about.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.