Politics driven outdoors

Several Republican members of Congress have stopped holding open meetings or taking questions from constituents who don’t pay for the privilege, Politico reports.  In addition to raising money, they are working to spare themselves embarrassment and to keep their opponents from a useful forum.

We remember that Liberty Belle (Keli Carendar) helped launch her public career as a Tea Partier by confronting Democratic Congressman Norman Dicks (Washington) about health care reform at an open town hall event, waving a $20 bill and daring him to come take it.

Coherence aside, Carendar (a one-time improv comic) understood how to create a theatrical moment.  From the grassroots, she now works as a professional organizer with Tea Party Patriots.

Well, more than one can play at this game.  After the House of Representatives passed his budget, featuring large spending cuts and take cuts for the wealthy, Representative Paul Ryan was met by angry protestors at his town meetings in Wisconsin (below).

Rep. Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, was the first to stop taking town meetings.  When in the district he represents, he will speak only to audiences that have paid to see him.

So what do the disgruntled among Rep. Ryan’s constituents do? Maybe some will pay $15-50 to ask a question.  (I doubt many will.)  I expect to see protests outside the events, where it’s harder to make a scene and harder to get coverage. To break through, they’ll have to be more than a little louder and generate larger crowds.

By limiting the space available for his constituents, Rep. Ryan (and several other Republican members of Congress) are pushing politics outdoors, where his opposition may wither.  Or it may get bigger and angrier.

Absent the sloppy ugly vigorous dialogue of democracy, politics will not get more civil.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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