It Works!

American democracy is still alive and well!

I went to a meeting last night with my new Congressman, Chris Murphy. Having written, phoned, and house-called for him last summer and fall and attended his victory party, I was curious to hear a report on his first six weeks in Washington. So were at least a couple hundred others who filled all the seats in the Washington Connecticut Town Hall and stood along the back wall.

The subject of the meeting was Iraq. He’s having a second Town Meeting in a few days on education. I arrived early and found a microphone placed in the center of the center aisle. I sat down beside it.

The Washington First Selectman introduced the speaker and we were off on a concise summary of what it feels like to be a first-term congressman facing critical issues. “Almost every day,” he told us, “there’s one of those ‘pinch me’ moments.”

Murphy is on the Government Oversight Reform Committee and he told of the surreal experience of hearing Paul Bremer testify that they had lost ten billion dollars cash in Iraq and he didn’t think it was a big problem. The money was falling off trucks and no one had a record of where it went. “Why worry?”

Murphy also made the point – high time somebody did – that to cut off funding for the war is not to cut off support for our troops. No one, he pointed out, is suggesting that we take away their guns and tanks and leave them there without a ride home. Truly to support our troops is to get them out of the vain attempt to resolve a civil war between Sunnis and Shias.

Questions were called for. No one leapt to their feet and the microphone was right there, so I stood up and made my point. He had sent a list of issues to every home the week before and asked us to rate their importance. I noted that here was nothing on his list about restoring the rule of law under the Constitution. What about the theory of the unitary executive, the warrantless surveillance of phone calls, the elimination of habeas corpus at Guantanamo, the rendition of suspects (some of them totally innocent) to foreign countries to be tortured, and so on? The Congressman responded that it shouldn’t be necessary to ask whether we consider upholding the Constitution to be a priority. But he acknowledged that it now is.

Next up were two citizens who wanted to know why we didn’t want to win the war in Iraq. Murphy responded that we can’t win a war between two (or more) factions in a civil war.

After that the questioners were uniformly supportive. A variety of issues was raised and the Congressman dealt with them all knowledgeably and intelligently. When he didn’t know, he said so. Like, what will happen if our troops do withdraw? “That’s what keeps me awake at night,” he said. “After you get your bull out of the china shop, you still have some responsibilities. I’m asking the experts and doing a lot of listening.” I thought it was a bravura performance. At the end of two hours there was no longer a line behind the microphone. Final comments were made and the Congressman received a standing ovation.

Murphy made the point at the beginning that there’s nothing more effective than for him to tell his colleagues, “I had a standing room only audience in my district and these are their concerns.”

And it just plain feels good to be able to tell your representative, live and in person, what you think should be happening and to know that he is on the same wave length.

Democracy in action: what I learned about in Junior High; it still works.

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