A Town Hall Meeting Without the Meeting — My Congressman’s “Telephone Town Hall Meeting”

Ah, the miracle of modern technology. You can have a town meeting with your congressional district’s constituents, and never step outside the Beltway.

I just put down my overheated cell phone after a “telephone town hall meeting” with my US Representative, John Tanner, Democrat, of the Eighth District of Tennessee. I was in line to ask questions, but the time ran out before I could ask any of them:

1) Will you pledge to vote in a way that upholds the US Constitution, regardless of the political consequences?

and,

2) Isn’t a bill too big to read too big to vote for?

Those of us with questions unasked when time ran out were given an opportunity to leave a voice mail with the questions in it, along with contact information implying that there would be a reply. I did so. John Tanner has replied to my emails in the past, in terms that were at least polite, if not agreeable. I expect something similar — polite, but non-committal — from this.

I wonder how many others were left in line when the approximately hour-long call was over? There would be no YouTube videos of confrontations and protesters appearing online after this meeting, and no accounts of a town hall meeting running for hours while the host got an earful from disgruntled constituents. When this one was over, it was over. Except for the voice mail opportunity.

Of course, there would be no opportunities for the left-wing bloggers to show right-wing members of the “mob” brandishing swastikas or firearms, either, so it may have been a wash, in terms of propaganda value.

Here’s how it went.

Those of us who had pre-registered on the Congressman’s Website got an automated call from the Congressman at about 6:40 PM, this evening (Monday, August 31).  The call was from 202-226-9928, which returns from a reverse search as coming from the US Capitol. Comments on the search site are to the effect that it is a generic, “top number” in a rotation, meaning it shows up when the caller is using any number in the US Capitol. Calling that number back gets a message about it being a “non-working number.” Well, it is in Washington, after all…

I don’t know whether John Tanner was in DC for the recess, or if the call was initiated by a staffer who remained there. Was John hiding in a “secure, undisclosed location” from potentially irate constituents, or was that just a convenient point for originating the call? If all the callers were in Tennessee, how convenient could that be? Just wondering.

I was instructed to hang on, while some on-hold music kept me entertained… Well, it kept me reassured that I hadn’t been disconnected, anyway.

If this was a typical, automated conference call offered by a third-party service, as it appeared to be, it would not have been possible to call a number at this point and be admitted to the call as a “walk-in.” No appointment; no conference call; no interactive communication with the elected representative.

A seemingly automated female voice (probably from the conference call service provider) came on and advised us to enter “Star 3” if we had questions, which I did, and I did.

A few minutes into the call, a live female (staffer?) voice came on the line with me, and I lost the audio from the conversation between the Congressman and his constituent while she talked to me. She asked me my name, location, and what my questions were. I read her the questions as I had prepared them, above. I assume all other callers had to present their questions in advance, as well.

I can’t claim that questions were screened according to content, although the opportunity was certainly there. From the composition of the questions that made it through in time, however, I have to conclude that any such manipulation of the audience would have been unsuccessful, if it was intended to show support for health care “reform.”  I have more to say about the tone of callers below, but the overwhelming majority of questions were anywhere from skeptical on the details of government health care, to flat-out opposed. If staffers were looking for calls in support of Obamacare, they must have been in short supply.

A live voice, male — probably a staffer — came on and said the same thing about punching Star 3, and gave us a pep talk about being patient, and keeping our questions short. The staffer introduced each caller, with a name and location, and the caller asked his or her question. Some questions included comments, and some went fairly long, but nobody appeared to be trying to make a stump speech.

Congressman Tanner, a self-styled “blue dog” Democrat, seemed to answer skillfully and forthrightly, with only a moderate amount of political tap dancing. Where the questions showed a bias on health care reform, the bias was negative, with the exception of one call. There were no hardball or hostile questions, but only one unabashed supporter of Obama and Obamacare, who sounded like a lifelong Democrat party hack, and indeed, described herself as a multi-generation Democrat.

Most questions included a preamble that was critical of the concept of government health care, ranging from concern over some particulars to blanket disapproval. Many callers were older (I hate the term, “Seniors”) describing themselves as of retirement age, up into their 80s. None of them mentioned health care rationing as a likely way their participation in government health care would end.

My concerns with the direction of the Obama administration go well beyond the particulars of health care “reform,” into what appears to be a (so far) successful, and (so far) bloodless coup d’etat, installing a socialist interim government over the dying remains of a constitutional republic, with an ambitious and unending series of piecemeal usurpations of power by the executive over the judicial and legislative branches.

If they pull this off, I expect history to repeat itself in the form of the socialist democracy’s rapid degeneration into a communist dictatorship. Too many of the people with whom Obama surrounds himself have expressed admiration for communist dictatorships to make this outcome seem unlikely.

Anyway, the call ended before I could ask my question, so I left a voice mail.

I sort of expected an outgoing message like, “You have reached the office of Representative John Tanner, member of the soon-to-be-irrelevant legislative branch of the former United States government. Please leave your questions, and an address where the White House can send ACORN thugs to provide you with end-of-life counseling. Thank you (beep).”

Okay, that wasn’t the message, but it will probably turn out to be about right, when the coup is complete.

And if the ACORN thugs show up in my corner of the Eighth District of Tennessee, they better bring some heat.

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