Actual Responses from
my Senators and Congresswoman

Since last summer, I've been sending e-mails on a variety of issues to my representatives in Washington. Here are some examples of issues I've e-mailed them about, and how they replied.

In early September, a scandal developed over the secretive meetings between Vice President Cheney and unnamed energy industry executives. The meetings generated formal recommendations for national energy policy, but Cheney refused to name his collaborators.

Excerpt from a message to Anna G. Eshoo, member of Congress:
The General Accounting Office should know who Vice President Cheney met with during development of the Administration's energy policy.
Please support the GAO in its efforts to make this information available to all Americans.

Excerpt from her reply:
Thank you for contacting me about granting the President trade promotion authority (TPA).
It is my belief that America's prosperity is tied to global trade. TPA is the legal basis on which we conduct our global economic affairs of state. Our region has much to lose if the U.S. continues to be absent from the negotiating table.
I appreciate hearing from you and ask you to continue to inform me on issues you care about. I always need and welcome the benefit of your thoughts and ideas.

Okay, TPA certainly sounds like an interesting issue, and one I should learn more about. But is my congresswoman implying a clandestine link between Presidential trade negotiations and Cheney's energy policy collusion? Where are today's Woodwards and Bernsteins when we need them?

Excerpt from a message on the same subject to Senator Diane Feinstein:
All Americans should know who had an inside track for shaping national policies and priorities. Energy policy is a national concern, and I'm disturbed that the American people have no reliable information on its development.

Excerpt from her reply:
Thank you for writing to me about the high prices of electricity in California. I welcome the opportunity to respond to your concerns.
It is clear to me that eventually the State is going to have to increase rates to some extent. But the State ought to do it in a way that gives Californians advanced warning and lets them know what their options are. That way, Californians can make an informed decision whether to:
  • Replace an old refrigerator with a new one;
  • Get a "smart meter" to help them conserve energy;
  • Turn computers off at night; and
  • Take other steps to reduce their energy consumption.
Again, thank you for writing to me. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to call my Washington, D.C. staff.

Well, I did "replace an old refrigerator with a new one," and now I do "turn computers off at night," but I still don't know who Cheney conspired with to determine the Administration's "Drill the Arctic!" policy.

After the September 11 terrorism, the United States pondered how we should respond. Some favored immediate and brutal retaliation, while others urged caution and a long-term view.
Excerpt from a message to Senator Barbara Boxer:
War is not the answer to the criminal actions of individuals. America can use the terrible events of the past week to build bridges to moderates around the world.
Please, argue for wisdom in our response to terrorism. As an editorial in the Eureka CA Times-Standard said, "Like all Americans, we want to see a strong, effective response to last week's outrage. We do not, however, wish to see a stupid one."

Excerpt from her reply:
I offer my prayers and condolences for the victims of this act of war.
It is time for us to say we will fight and stand up for them and their memories. We will take a stand against man's inhumanity to man that occurred right on our own soil.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this time of great loss for our country. I will keep them with me as we move forward from this national tragedy.

It's discouraging, having sent a message urging wisdom, to receive a thoughtless list of political cliches—except, thank god, that a strong military response would somehow be good "for the children."

It was becoming hard to ignore the strange disconnect between my messages and the responses I received. But hey, automated email replies would be okay with me, as long as my opinions are being accurately conveyed to my representatives.
Excerpt from a message to Senator Diane Feinstein:
I've noticed that, when I send e-mail messages to my representatives in Washington, I receive replies that are obviously automated.
I'm interested to know if my e-mails are being tabulated or otherwise processed so that my opinions are accurately conveyed to you. I'd also like to know whether you attach the same importance to standard mail and e-mail.

Excerpt from her reply:
Thank you so much for contacting me to share your thoughts and concerns. As I am sure you know, letters containing anthrax disrupted Congress by forcing the closure of the House and Senate office buildings. We are also deeply saddened to learn of the deaths and illnesses of Postal workers and other innocent victims infected by anthrax.
In the average week, we receive approximately 30,000 letters and e-mails, but the mail is being held up by the Capitol police pending the establishment of a better screening process. And even when the mail service is resumed, because of the closure of my Senate offices, it is simply not possible to respond individually to the letters and e-mail I am continuing to receive.

The slowdown in delivery of standard mail suggests that e-mail might be a better way to communicate. Unfortunately, the threat of anthrax is preventing the people in Washington from reading their e-mails, too. Are they afraid of getting anthrax because they're using Microsoft Outlook?

So, are there ways of communicating with these people that work any better?
Most of us don't have money to waste on contributions to political campaigns. Some suggest that pooling our resources by contributing to advocacy organizations is effective, but how can we assess that? I've been getting the same soliticitations from the same organizations for a dozen years, with the plea, "Our work is still not completed!" Well, where I work, they would have canned you for ineffectiveness a decade ago!
We can always threaten to give our votes to a different candidate, although I don't get the feeling that threat worries politicians on the national level. They appear to rely more on the massive statistics of polling data than on individual messages from voters. We might do well to eliminate this problem by resolving always to lie to pollsters, thus sabotaging this impersonal device and making our individual messages essential to our representatives.
I once saw Senator Barbara Boxer walking down a hallway in the building where I work. She's really short. Her aide carries a wooden box for her to stand on when she gives speeches, or else nobody would see her standing behind the podium. Behind all the political crap, our representatives are flesh-and-blood people. They're short, they're tall, they're skinny, they're fat, they're not very different from me and you. We must keep trying to get through and talk sense to them, so this wonderful country won't gradually slip away from us.

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