Franking is a process by which Congress, the President and some cabinet members correspond with the public using their signature on the envelope instead of a stamp. These mailings to constituents are limited by budget allotment and of course are paid for with taxpayer dollars. The Franking Commission approves the content of materials to prevent abuse of the privilege.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) sends a regular newsletter to his constituents. When he recently attempted to mail a newsletter to his district regarding healthcare, he was forced to remove the following language before Democrats on the commission would approve payment:
“The below quote is from President Obama at a recent town hall on health care, responding to a question on possible medical treatment for an elderly woman who had heart problems and received a pacemaker:
‘Look, the first thing for all of us to understand that is we actually have some — some choices to make about how we want to deal with our own end-of-life care… we as a culture and as a society [can start] to make better decisions within our own families and for ourselves…at least we can let doctors know and your mom know that, you know what? Maybe this isn’t going to help. Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller.’
The President’s own words, in context, yet using those words in communication to constituents was unacceptable. Similarly, the words “Democratic majority” are no longer acceptable and must be replaced with “the majority party”, yet in an approved 2006 newsletter from Nancy Pelosi she stated “But too many here and across our nation are paying the price for the Republican Congressional majority’s special interest agenda.” If the majority party wants to use “overseas contingency operation” to describe the war on terror that is their right, but to effectively censor the opinion of an elected official in communication with constituents would seem to be an abuse of power.
Also on the communication front, several recent town hall meetings held by members of Congress regarding health care legislation turned ugly. Attendees who felt their concerns were being ignored vented their frustration and anger, which unfortunately resulted in the meetings degenerating into unproductive shouting matches. This poor behavior resulted in claims by many Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that the anger exhibited was “Astroturf” created be right-wing extremists, insurance lobbyists and the RNC to deliberately disrupt these town hall meetings. To counter these Astroturf protests, the DNC is now running ads calling the town hall attendees angry mobs, and President Obama accused the attendees of “manufactured outrage.” The DNC also called on the SEIU, Organize America and other liberal organizations to attend these meetings and counter opposition, resulting in reports of physical violence at meetings in Tampa and St. Louis.
It is certainly possible that some of the disruption at these meetings was organized and deliberate, which serves no useful purpose and does little to advance the cause of those being disruptive. Likewise, a response by the majority party that claims anyone with questions or differing opinions must be part of an organized group not only marginalizes those individual citizens who have legitimate concerns about the future of their own health care, but also ignores the community organizer background of President Obama.
Not to leave out e-communication, the White House posted the following last week on their blog page:
“There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
This has caused its own uproar as opponents question whether there is a legitimate purpose for collecting this information or whether it is simply an intimidation tactic of questionable legality. Contributing to the electronic vitriol on the right, Sarah Palin continued to participate in the health care discussion by Twittering that:
“The America I know is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s death panel, so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment on their ‘level of productivity’ in society, whether they are worthy of health care.”
We are fortunate that America now has a time-out in the midst of this health care debate in which to collectively take a breath and hope that calmer heads prevail. The childish political games, name-calling and bickering practiced by our elected representatives need not poison the ability of the American people to have intelligent discussion of the issues and reach rational conclusions. It is becoming increasingly clear that few in Washington place the interests of their constituents ahead of their own political aspirations. It is up to the people who elected them to set the proper example and act like adults, until such time as those who would abandon their duty to America and the Constitution can be summarily replaced.