The Right Honorable (and Useless) Members of Congress

Yes, I’m being sarcastic with the headline because we don’t use “right honorable” in this country. We only use  “honorable,” and that label applies to the office a member of the U.S. Congress holds. It is not a reference to the character of the person holding that office. It’s a healthy tradition for Americans to honor the elected position even if they hold little regard for the person they’ve elected.

My use of the word “useless” is on purpose and is not sarcastic. Let me quickly defend it: When it comes to participation on the information war we’re currently engaged in, how many members of your state’s Republican Congressional delegation do you see actively fighting to lower the number of low information voters in their home state?

For anyone paying attention to their congressional reps it can be easy to spot those whose main activities are aimed at entrenching themselves into that office. Other members are seen spending most of their time climbing the political or social ladder in Washington, D.C. Still others can be observed looking around for a different office to run for next — be it for governor, or to upgrade from the House to the Senate.

It’s a safe bet that the members of your Republican congressional delegation give due diligence to constituent service, and that’s right and good. But that doesn’t lead to victories in the information war. Most, if not all, go to the trouble of holding town hall meetings and make it a point to send out press releases to media outlets. The evidence shows that those activities are not nearly enough if we are going to gain ground.

Using my home state as an example, after the 2012 election our Illinois Republican delegation got smaller and Obama won as big as ever statewide. If our GOP members of congress were playing their role as public opinion leaders, their home state should be on its way to at least to becoming a ‘swing’ state. If they don’t change their ways, Illinois could well be hard ‘Dem’ for the foreseeable future.

Small minds dominate these high offices and even good and honest men and women seem to think they’ll get to a different result on election day by merely doing the same things that have always been done.

The argument arises: “Do you know how busy a member of Congress is?” Yes, actually, I do. I worked for one — along with a sizable group of other people. Congressional staffs are plenty big, easing the workload for the boss. As with my comments the other day about school board members and my post yesterday about state legislators, no amount of work should get in the way of what Abraham Lincoln and the Founding Fathers saw as the first priority: moving public opinion.

So what can our Republican members of Congress accomplish when it comes to changing hearts and minds? A great deal. The potential reach of Republican U.S. Senators is massive — yet few of them take their role in the information war seriously.

Even in the states where a minority of the congressional delegation are Republicans they have the potential to punch above their weight when acting as a team. Frankly, so can any one member of Congress, due to the size and importance of the office.

But how many of our guys do you see getting aggressive about influencing public sentiment back at home as individuals or as a group? I only see a handful from coast to coast. If you see otherwise, send me a note here and I’ll hold it up as a wonderful example — if not a lone example — of how a Republican member of Congress can drop the word “useless” from his title.

(Updated version. First published October 2013)