When Town Halls were springing up all across the US after the Inauguration of Donald Trump, I was mystified by the reticence of Republicans to show up at gatherings in their own districts. It appeared they were trashing their reelection chances, fueling stereotypes of listening to wealthy donors exclusively, acting blatantly unresponsive to many voters and shirking their duties as elected representatives. It was equally puzzling when a few did appear before their hometown crowds, they assumed they were facing paid protestors. They interpreted the furor as sore losers following the November election. Several ducked out early (on live TV) as if they found the confrontations completely objectionable. They knew the crowds did not represent the majority of voters who put them in office. They knew our country is founded on the principle of “majority rule”. However, they did not expect to be questioned about health care legislation, immigration policy, Cabinet appointments, Congressional investigations, the Supreme Court nomination or the President’s outpouring of Executive Orders and tweets. They were surprised by the surge in civic engagement among the usually apathetic voters.
Over last weekend, it dawned on me what the Republican members of Congress were thinking. Suddenly their mystifying conduct made sense on their own terms. They were acting very reasonably in light of free market capitalism. There campaigns get funded by Big Money because of their common faith in market mechanisms and protections. What follows is a way to look through their GOP eyes and make sense of everything they are not confessing:
Any town hall looks like a free-for-all. There are no barriers to entry that could qualify the players and raise the standards from the start. There is a surplus of complaints, questions and sob stories and no demand for any of it. It’s a dumping ground for people who would rather complain than take responsibility for the lives.There is no market mechanism to balance the supply of whining with demand for it. There is no comparisons between the loudmouths to weed out inferior producers with superior competition. It’s as bad a communist country with inefficient planned production and chronic supply shortages. The whole arrangement is disgusting and making a showing at the town hall could only be disgraceful, compromising and possibly stigmatizing.
If a town hall was true to free market capitalism, participants would be prescreened like entrepreneurs seeking startup loans to enter a market. The town hall would be protected by barriers to entry that kept unqualified producers out. The participants would compete for air time on the merits of what they say and how they say it. They would learn quickly when their production was not getting bought, believed or put to use. They would see competitors who produced contributions that did both sell well and generate requests for more. The entire marketplace would quickly learn how to please the customer, a.k.a the member of Congress at the town hall. Contributors would then tell the representative what he or she wanted to hear. There would be no more complaining about, confronting or rejecting the customer. The hope for free handouts of airtime would vanish. Nobody would get to speak that did not earn prior respect or prove his/her worth in advance with reviews, testimonials and credentials.
The participants in other town halls seem like transients dumping their trash on private property. They show no respect for others who want privacy, security and control. They expect everyone to show them sympathy and to provide handouts. They act if Congress should subsidize losers who are a drain on the economy instead of rewarding winners who strengthen our economy. To spend all their time and energy showing up and contributing without getting paid suggests some market has become distorted by government regulations and excessive taxation. Their interest in the issues facing Congress seems like idle busybodies paying attention to things that are none of their business. They are neither elected to handle those issues or paid to do research and prepare briefs on those topics. If the topics are so interesting to them, they should get a job with a news outlet or think tank. Then they could compete respectably with paid professionals who handle those issues every day with expertise and experience.
I suspect that most of the GOP members of Congress think this way among themselves. They cannot say these things out loud because they would only get 1% of the votes while getting 70% of the campaign financing.
This can also explain why GOP MOC’s are so consistently reticent to show up at town halls. They may be afraid of getting upset and speaking their minds in this alienating way. They may be afraid on condoning the obnoxious displays of self pity and dependency on big government by making a personal appearance. They may dread more “fake news” coverage about their being selfish, insensitive or cruel when they think that they are merely protecting how our economy works.
While this may explain the behavior and motivations of the GOP MOC’s avoiding town halls, it also shows why they cannot explain themselves.