By Editorial Board Originally Appeared in The Ventura County Star
You could call this year’s mail and phone bombardment of elected officials the “American Idolization” of politics. Or just the opposite, considering the vitriol of much of the correspondence.
The average “American Idol” voter in 2008 cast 38 text-message votes, according to Nielsen Mobile. The final performance show in 2011 drew a record 122.4 million phone and text votes in one night.
Perhaps there’s some irony in a reality-TV-star-turned-president helping to revive the behavior encouraged by a reality singing contest. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that ABC announced Tuesday it will bring back “Idol” during its 2017-18 season.
We have no problems with any of this. In a democracy, the more free speech, the better. We only ask, as we have several times this year, that the discourse remain civil, respectful and meaningful. We were disturbed about the rude, childish behavior at Rep. Steve Knight’s recent town hall in Simi Valley and want to again urge everyone to spend more time listening and less time yelling and screaming.
The Star, in a report Sunday, documented the explosion of emails, text messages, phone calls, letters, postcards and faxes sent to state and federal legislators. A controversial president, a divided nation, hot-button issues like health care, social media and app technology have combined to create more feedback than ever for our elected officials.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has received 2 million emails, 140,000 phone calls and 250,000 written messages since Donald Trump was elected — more than double the amount in the same period a year earlier. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, and her office fielded nearly 33,000 emails, phone calls and letters from January through March alone, The Star reported. Knight, R-Lancaster, has sent 8,000 response letters to constituents since Jan. 1 — a 65 percent increase from a year earlier. One woman told The Star she’s making up to a dozen calls a day using an app that connects her automatically to legislators’ offices.
Elected officials contend they listen to everyone, but they have to say that. Experts say a handwritten letter is more effective than robo email. If nothing else, the volume of communication and size of crowds at town halls help politicians measure how organized an opposition group is.
The crowd at Knight’s April 18 town hall in Simi was large — and unruly. Knight was hooted, heckled and shouted down. While the crowd’s behavior probably seemed worse to Republicans than Democrats, a single hoot is too much for us. It is behavior you’d expect to see at a high school football game, not at a meeting to discuss our nation’s future.
We encourage you to keep calling and writing your representatives, keep asking them questions at town halls. Just make sure the communication is constructive and adds to our political discourse, instead of hindering it. Simon Cowell may be good for “Idol” but not for better government.
Issues: 115th Congress