L. Neil Smith's
Number 267, April 18, 2004

Sing The Song, Children!

Is Anybody Listening?
by Lady Liberty

Special to TLE

I write and call my Congressional Representative and Senators quite regularly. Taking this kind of action, while often apparently futile, in reality does do some good. If politicians on both sides of the aisle have something in common, it is their shared desire to be elected again and again. And so as a sort of sop to their constituents, politicians do from time to time actually listen to voters. I write and call again and again in the hopes of hitting that golden "time to time" window.

So as to maximize my chances of doing any good, I've carefully considered my approach. When I write, I keep my messages brief and to the point. When I call, I have notes in front of me so that I am ready to state the facts and give my position on the issue. In either case, I am respectful (not necessarily because a given politician deserves respect, mind you, but because a little respect goes a long way in keeping the party on the other end of the communication listening).

I've had some modest success in my efforts. I have a drawer full of replies from various political representatives, many of which indicate an agreement with my comments (though that agreement is all too often equivocal). In the case of some recent telephone calls to Congress (concerning that new nasty known as MATRIX [http://www.ladylibrty.com/matrix.html]), I was even thanked by a few aides for steering them to information of which they were unaware. Certainly there are times when the politicians disagree with me, and instances where no matter what a letter has said they vote against everything I've expressed. But I haven't given up yet!

Yesterday, I received yet another envelope bearing the return address of the Congress of the United States. Inside, I found a letter that said, in part, "I appreciate your concern," "I agree with you," and "I applaud you..." Another success to add to the list? Well, not exactly.

Some weeks ago, I wrote to my Congressional Representative in connection with the brouhaha over communications decency begun with the Super Bowl's infamous halftime "wardrobe malfunction." I said that, while I certainly didn't think the breast-baring incident was appropriate, I also couldn't condone censorship. I wrote that citizens must be their own censors by using the power of the remote control to change channels or turn the TV off (CBS did suffer as a result of consumer complaint, as did Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake—and rightfully so). Instead of fines, I suggested that public disapproval—the refusal to buy the albums of an offending singer, or the boycott of one network or another—would be both far more constitutional and realistically effective. I specifically asked that no laws or regulations be written which would mitigate free speech in any way. I argued that the First Amendment exists more to protect speech with which we disagree than to ensure expression of which everyone approves.

In response, I got a letter that said my Congressional Representative applauded me "for trying to hold these commercial broadcasters accountable" and that "All to [sic] often, the current fines are often seen by certain broadcasters as merely the price of doing business for attracting a certain audience." The letter went on to say, "That is why I have co-sponsored the bipartisan 'Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004' (H.R. 3717 [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c108:3:./temp/~c108ATtJu3::]) which proposes a ten-fold increase in the statutory maximum fines the FCC may dole out to offenders."

I wasn't at all mollified to read, "Of course, any legislation that limits free speech requires the strictest scrutiny." I always thought that any legislation that limits free speech was unconstitutional by definition. And yet I'm hearing from someone sworn to uphold the Constitution who is telling me in reference to H.R. 3717 that "This bill provides the FCC with the tools needed to effectively curb the indecency and profanity pervading our nation's airwaves."

I'll tell you the truth: I was far less upset about the fact that my Congressional Representative is clearly in direct opposition to my viewpoint on this issue than I was that the letter I received indicated that we were on the same side. It's been made all too clear that not only were my opinions not considered, but that they all too obviously weren't even read.

Perhaps an aide got carried away when he or she saw the subject matter and simply responded to me with Stock Response Letter #47B. Or maybe some politicians are now so convinced of their own authority that they're not even offering the pretense of caring what their constituents have to say. Which is it? I don't know. But I'm going to call and ask. Let's see what kind of response that generates!

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