Thursday, January 18, 2007
Lobbyist Barbara Kennelly's form letter on social security
On January 17, 2007 I received at by business mailbox an 11 in x 12 in envelope from Lansdale, PA, from Barbara Kennelly, CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Ms Kennelly (not Kennedy!) had served in the U.S. Congress for seventeen years as a ranking member of the Social Security Committee and of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The package did contain a six page letter explaining the accomplishments of the committee. They are discussed in a separate blog entry.
The package also contained a blue form letter, very professionally printed, to be mailed to Representative James P. Moran, D, 8th District, Virginia. Part of the letter reads
“As you know, President Roosevelt and Congress created Social Security in 1935 to protect retired Americans from experiencing … ‘poverty-ridden old age.’ … Social Security and Medicare represent a covenant between the government and its citizens. I therefore stand against plans to privatize either of these programs in any way that will harm of diminish these critically important protections against poverty and the devastating coast of medical care.”
I don’t dispute the validity of this argument, although personally I agree with plans to give individuals more control of their retirement assets, including eventually social security. What concerns me is the message of lobbying and contacting legislators this way. It says “I need more of the pie. I am getting stepped on. I am a victim….” This way of contacting legislators, with slick form letters prepared on K-Street assumes that average constituents have no ability or responsibility to think through issues for themselves in any reasonably objective fashion.
Of course, the reality is that most of corporate America is adversarial in nature and that people get paid to behave in a one-sided manner in public all the time. In fact, many people depend on organizations and unions to represent them in a collective manner, and collective bargaining is a longstanding legally recognized right, connected to expressive association in the First Amendment. Still, high school and college education in social studies is supposed to teach students to think critically and see issues from objective overview (although the battles over curricula in some sensitive areas
The controversy of blogging and social networking profiles ultimately ties into this problem. Some people, by their public job responsibilities, may be precluded from expressing themselves in a public space and have only collective expressive association to represent their needs. Nevertheless, individually written letters to representatives are much more appropriate than mailings like the one I received. Most Representatives and Senators have efficient ways to contact them through email; Jim Moran’s site has a panel for sending letters through the Internet. Also, most have staff that is reasonably responsive to individual phone calls; at least my own representatives in the Senate and House here in Virginia do.