I’ve been writing emails lately. A lot of emails. Emails in favor of things, emails opposed to things, emails reviewing things, emails complaining about things and emails praising people and things. Most of the time I get canned responses to those emails: “Thanks for your opinion!” “We value what you have to say!” and an occasional “So sorry we can’t respond personally…”
After reading the State Department report and numerous other reports, articles and analysis, I wrote a carefully crafted and passionate email to Senator Toomey (R) Pennsylvania opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline. (Before you jump all over my hide and namecall, just know that I try to be a risk vs. benefit kind of person rather than an ideologue and my risk vs. benefit analysis here leads me to oppose this project. I read this particularly good analysis.)
Anyway, I emailed Senator Toomey, which was probably a fruitless exercise since he’s co-sponsor of the bill to construct the pipeline, but I just couldn’t tamp down my inner Leslie Knope*. I made sure to title the email “NO Keystone XL Pipeline” so it didn’t get counted among the emails in support. When you send an email to a Senator or Representative, you have to first choose a category for your email, which I’m sure routes it to a folder. Then, hopefully, the emails get sorted based on title for a count, since I’m sure no one actually reads them. Then I’m guessing a staffer just delivers a count to the Senator or Representative and assumes that every email supports whatever position the Senator or Representative is supporting.
I know the emails are never read because I stated quite clearly that I do not wish for my email address to be placed on his newsletter or fundraising list. You can guess what happened next.
A couple of days after my email I received a response back from “Senator Toomey” thanking me for my support and continuing to enumerate all the positives of the Keystone XL pipeline. So yeah, my email just got counted among the supporters of the pipeline so now the Senator can continue quote that “the American people are in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline”. Dammit.
I’m going to wager that the Senator would never get the opinion of a Canadian oil executive wrong and I’m also going to wager that he would actually sit down and answer an email from a Canadian oil company executive, or more likely enjoy a lovely meal with said executive.
Kind of sums up elected officials in America today doesn’t it? I’m not picking on Senator Toomey particularly because I think he’s probably no different than any other Senator or Representative. The process is rigged so that the only side of the argument they hear is from those to whom they bother to listen and it just so happens that those to whom they listen are not those of us out here in the great unwashed.
The next time your elected official votes for or against something, make sure you run the cost vs. benefit analysis and ask yourself why they’re taking the position they’ve taken. Don’t settle for all the highfalutin’ talk of “liberty” and “constitution” and “rights” but two simple questions without cynicism: what do you have to lose or gain by voting the way you are voting? And what do we the people have to lose or gain by the way you are voting?”
*Leslie Knope, former Pawnee City Council member and current head of the National Parks Department, is the fictional eternal optimist from the sitcom Parks and Recreation for the role of government to enhance the lives of all citizens.