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An open letter to John Tanner

An open letter to John Tanner

Posted: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 8:01 pm

 Dear Congressman Tanner, The people of the Eighth Congressional District have much to thank you for — as a group of people and as individuals. You have done many good things for the folks back home during your 20 years as a Congressman. You deserve our appreciation. Face-to-face meetings with your constituents would afford many of us the opportunity to express that sentiment. Such meetings would, as well, give us the chance to ask questions about matters that have recently come before the Congress, that are presently competing for Congressional attention and that may require legislative action in the future. Then, too, such sessions would provide both you and us the privilege of communicating — up close and personal — in ways that letters and e-mails and phone calls just can’t duplicate. Body language can speak volumes, alone. And when many people have a desire not just to hear what you have to say, but to tell you what is on their hearts and minds, face-to-face interaction is simply unbeatable. When there are too many voices to be heard as individuals, public-minded citizens can even paint a poster and wave it in your line of vision at a real town hall meeting, hoping you will not forget their sentiments — whether they are positive or negative. Technology is a wonderful thing. It lets people who cannot be in proximity, for a variety of reasons, communicate across great distances. It provides an instant way to convey an opinion. But it does not permit the intimacy or the impressions or the memories or the urgency of face-to-face meetings. It does not assure that a message is heard or a question is answered. It is true that your constituents may phone, fax, e-mail or drop by your offices in the Eighth Congressional District at almost any time. It is true that your staff is composed of wonderful people who do their best to assist the citizens of this district. They certainly deserve our respect and appreciation. But it is equally true that all these things are, in a way, buffers. They are not the same thing as seeing you — as hearing you, as talking to you — in person. We need to see you in the flesh, Congressman. Telephone town hall meetings may meet your needs, but we ask you to please understand that they will not necessarily meet ours. How are the “thousands of participants” your press release assures us will be able to “participate” guaranteed you will notice them? People need to be noticed, particularly in these difficult times when fears and frustrations are at such a high level. That is really what those who desire real town hall meetings — not some sanitized technological version of interaction — are asking for. You are both a Congressman and an employer. I am trying hard to imagine your approach, in the latter role, if you became aware that there were things going on in your business or your Congressional offices you had serious concerns about. I am trying to envision you politely inviting the employees who could clear up your concerns to meet you face-to-face to discuss the situation. I am trying to summon up a mental image of your reaction if those employees said, “Mr. Tanner, we will be glad to discuss this issue with you. Please call in and register. It’s a simple procedure. Just leave your name and number and indicate the things you want to discuss and we’ll get back to you by phone when it’s convenient for us. We really feel this ‘new format’ will be the ‘best tool.’” I’m having a little trouble with this image, for some reason. But not nearly so much as I have with the fantasy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking you to come to her office for a face-to-face over a serious concern she might have concerning — say — your voting record. You see, no matter how tightly I close my eyes, or how intensely I concentrate, I just can’t see you telling Madame Speaker you think a telephone get-together is preferable and is, indeed, the only way you will be willing to hear what she has to say. It just wouldn’t happen. And Mrs. Pelosi isn’t even your boss! But we are. We are. Please remember that, Congressman Tanner, and respond appropriately. Sincerely, Glenda H. Caudle Citizen of the Eighth Congressional District Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at glendacaudle@ucmessenger.com. Published in The Messenger 8.11.09

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