We all have heard the President, administration officials and Congressional members state that they “welcome the conversation” on a variety of topics. Most recently was Attorney General Holder welcoming a conversation on race relations in the US after the Zimmerman verdict. Before that it was President Obama welcoming a conversation on surveillance. In the past we have heard the same thing about entitlement reform or the budget or any number of other policies.
But these people have a very strange idea of what a conversation is. If you look up any definition of a conversation it involves two way interaction and communication. Yet that is not what we get from these officials when they “welcome the conversation”. Officials make a speech or statement about the subject and leave it at that. The communication is purely one way, they tell us what they think and they consider that a conversation. There is no way for the public to become involved in this conversation, we have no say or influence on it at all. If we are lucky the press might ask a few question about the assertions of the official but rarely are those substantive. There is no expression of alternate positions, there are no challenges brought forth against the official’s take on the situation, there is no conversation.
There are many important conversations we need to have such as the limitations and justification for surveillance, race relations, reform of entitlement programs, balancing the budget and paying down the national debt. Unfortunately when it comes to public policy the public is not part of the conversation. We are excluded from it. The conversation takes place on Capital Hill between law makers and the administration. We hear the conversation in the media through pundits and talk shows. But we the people never get to be involved. Essentially the public is cut off from any conversation that could potentially influence policy decisions.
This would not be so bad if we felt represented by those having the conversation but that isn’t the case either. Congress doesn’t represent most people considering that Congressional approval is around 6% right now. Just look at how both sides of Congress are just fine with NSA surveillance that concerns the public so much and is causing issues with our international relations. Yet these are the people having the conversation for us and then deciding what we want.
If the Obama administration or Congress welcomes a conversation then they should show it with their actions. Create a neutral website where the public can post questions and vote on which questions they want asked. Then answer the questions live on TV or in live streaming video. After each question the public would be allowed to post follow up responses or questions that can be voted on in real time and answered immediately without time to develop the ‘proper’ political response. Let the public decide what questions need answered instead of letting politicians decide which questions they care to answer. Let the public challenge the answers in real time. If you really welcome the conversation then bring the public into the conversation.