Michael Fitzgerald is a regular contributor to the Finger Lakes Times. His column “WRITE ON” is published every Friday. You can email him at Michael.Fitzgeraldfltcolumnist@gmail.com and visit his website at michaeljfitzgerald.blogspot.com.
New York Congressman Tom Reed has been taking some serious licks in recent weeks in appearances at town halls around the district, with most attendees barely able to contain their pique at his support of the GOP plan to blindly repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
Draconian immigration policies, defunding of Planned Parenthood and possible cuts in Social Security and Medicare are also part of a potpourri of issues being raised.
But in addition to those concerns, Reed faced criticism at a packed session in Ovid last weekend by audience members who said he doesn’t listen enough to constituents.
His classic politician’s response drew a chorus of boos and catcalls.
“I represent 717,000 people,” Reed said. “I try to listen to that silent voice.”
If “silent voice” sounds faintly familiar, it’s because it’s a spin on the term “silent majority,” a phrase late-former President Richard Nixon used in a 1969 speech aimed at quieting protests over his handling of the Vietnam War.
Variations of the phrase get dragged out by politicians to lay claim to invisible support for often unpopular positions.
Reed’s problem today is that many of the silent voices that might have unwaveringly supported him in the past are now standing in front of him at town hall meetings demanding to know what exactly is going to happen to their health care.
Platitudes that the newly elected GOP-controlled federal government will simply take care of everything are being met with a roiling mix of skepticism and increased cynicism.
To his credit, at least Reed has been willing to step in front of some pretty angry groups across the sprawling 23rd Congressional district, unlike many of his colleagues. In many other districts across the nation, GOP congressmen are playing duck and cover rather than standing in front of constituents to answer questions about why the GOP wasn’t ready with a plan to replace the ACA the day the new government took office.
But Reed’s generally vague answers — coupled with claims that silent voices in the background count more than people who turn out at town halls — is not a winning strategy for reelection in 2018.
And that’s what these town halls are all about — re-election.
Reed coasted through the last two re-elections while the GOP was spending the majority of its time blocking any progress on any front — a strategy that appealed to anti-Obama, anti-Democratic voters.
Town halls were a big part of Reed’s campaigning, with generally less- strident, less-confrontational audiences willing to listen to his platform palaver about how terrible Obama and the federal government were.
But now that the GOP has the reins of the entire federal budget and the bureaucracy is in its political grasp, citizens are justifiably asking what the GOP plan is about health care.
And everything else.
Eight years of being obstructionists seems to have induced GOP mental atrophy except for the destruction of federal agencies, repealing regulations and regulatory authority in the process.
Removal of clean water and clean air regulations, for example, could spell environmental disaster for the Finger Lakes.
Ditto for any national immigration policy that could discourage legal immigrant workers from working for local farms and vineyards.
The town halls are likely to get even more raucous and confrontational, unless Reed and his House of Representatives’ GOP colleagues quickly put on their thinking caps and come up with some real plans for real progress and not simply try to revoke the social and fiscal progress of last century.
When the electoral/voting clock chimes on Nov. 6, 2018, the silent — and not-so-silent — voices are likely to speak with a unified voice.