What Obama Should Have Said at That White House Meeting
He should have said… “You will be going home shortly for the summer break. It’s a great time to have townhall meetings with your constituents, and we need to get them on board for making some changes with our health care system. As you know it is going broke, and we have to make some changes. So I have some suggestions as to how to make this a successful summer recess:
Arrange for a place large enough to accommodate a large crowd – you won’t be paying anything for the room anyway, might as well have a large one. After all we’re dealing with major issues and a great deal of the people’s money so we need lots of people to show up.
Make sure the public address system is sufficient to overcome crowd noise so you can actually hear and be heard.
It’s best to have an associate open the meeting stating that the Representative (or Senator) will be coming to the podium to listen, and to answer questions the people have.
Announce that the Representative or Senator wants to hear everything you have to say, wants to know your thoughts about the general idea of what the government needs to do, what you think the issues are; and also wants to deal with specific concerns or questions you may have about any of this.
State that the Representative or Senator will stay as many hours as necessary, will listen to every concern, will answer – or find the answer- to every question.”
He should have said… “State that you have provided microphones so every question will be heard, and recorded so you miss nothing. You will get everyone the answers they seek. You might consider having a staff member write a few of the questions at a time on a large whiteboard, so everyone can see the question, then you can find out which issues are the most important, and give time for follow-up questions. When you are introduced, drop the ‘honorable Representative So-and-so from the 5th district of…nonsense.’ They don’t think you are very honorable anyway. Use that stuff at political rallies, not here.
After you are introduced, tell the crowd that water is available for everyone in the room; and if the meeting goes beyond 4 hours, your office will bring sandwiches for everyone who wants to stay and deal with the issues. Remember, you may think you have lots of work to do, but many of these people are now working only part-time, or have used vacation time to come be with you. Respect on your part would be welcomed, and would really help us with the problems we face in the country.
Request that the questions come one at a time so you can hear what’s being said, and that you will either respond immediately if you know the answer, or you will provide a written response to every constituent in the room within a week.
Tell them that you have staff present to make a list of their concerns and you will be bringing up these concerns at future hearings and debates in Washington. You know we need to make some changes, but you want to move at a pace where we can insure we make the right moves for everyone; and you oppose spending any more of their money.
Tell your audience that you respect them (first consider whether or not that is the truth, and if it isn’t close the meeting and resign); you need to hear what they are saying, and that neither you nor anyone else in Washington including the people in the White House has all the answers. So you need input from the audience. Be sure they have your office phone numbers in your district, and in D.C. Introduce the people who answer your phones and the questions when they call. Make sure they have the physical address of your district office, and your email addresses. Don’t try to hide.
Remind them that you are aware that we have a constitutional republic, and what the people want is of paramount importance. You consider it your task to fight for what they want; that’s why you are having the meeting.”
He should have said… “Cut out all BS. Don’t talk in bureaucratic, policy wonk speech – people are insulted when you attempt to divert their questions by giving them a string of canned, prepared, focus-grouped, diversionary, Party-approved political rhetoric. Forget ‘staying on message,’ we are not giving you a ‘message;’ the real ‘message’ is what your constituent is asking or telling you, and what you say in response. You are conversing with an individual person, not making profound statements to the world for posterity, so cut the crap.
Remember, you do not work for the Democrat Party, the Republican Party, or for the White House – you work for that little platoon of ordinary and magnificient people in front of you. Hold a real conversation with them, not an entirely different conversation that you alone want to have; don’t lecture – it won’t be welcome. In this regard, always answer the question that is asked, not a different question that you prefer to answer.
Don’t let them even smell pretense. If you demean people by pretending that you are so pure you don’t need to shower, they get insulted, and you can expect to get yelled at. They know much of what you said to get elected is pure, unalloyed scat; so you will have some serious fence-mending to do. This would probably be a good time to keep your peace and remember the admonition of Jesus to ‘turn the other cheek.’ If you sincerely do this, respect for you will swell; and even your political enemies will speak well of you. It isn’t us vs. them; it is all of us together. We are the people too, so don’t pretend you are above any of them, because you’re not. They may be more or less articulate than you but your unalterable, genuine respect for each of them must be evident. If it isn’t, please go join the other Party.
Always remember that you are employed by a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people; it really isn’t all about you. In addition, remember that the people you are facing in the room pay the generous salary that you get to set, your trips to Washington and back home, the foreign junkets we take, the healthcare we all enjoy that none of those people in the room will ever have; they pay for the special passageways at work enabling us to avoid the crush of real people, the staff who serve us, the generous retirement you get that none of them will never get, the subsidized haircuts, and subsidized lunches we enjoy. Remember, many of the people in front of you have to make their own sandwiches for lunch; and some probably have their wife cut their hair to save money, but you are not worth more than any of them. It may be hard for some of you, but humility on your part would be welcomed by the people. None of them believe you are smarter than anyone else, or worthy of any more honor than their next door neighbor anyway. This is America; they just don’t buy it. Keep the phrase, ‘I’m a public servant,’ uppermost in your mind.”
He should have said… “Do not permit your staff or anyone else to pack the room with your supporters – you don’t need to persuade them anyway. It’s those who didn’t vote for you, and who oppose your political views you need to listen to; and these are the ones who need to hear you. Don’t divide your constituents, learn from them, and seek to persuade them.
You frequently make life and death decisions for those people in the room with you. The success or failure of our republic rests on the shoulders of that little group in front of you; not on how smart you are, how educated you are, or how clever you are. You have the power – at least until re-election time; but in the meantime they only have the right to speak, to sound off, to tell you they support you or oppose you; don’t attempt to rob them of that opportunity or demean them for their clothing, background, friends, or their inarticulation. Speaking out to you is all they have; don’t steal that opportunity, or treat them as unimportant.
They don’t make policy and they can’t make decisions about the constitutionality of policies. But you do make policy affecting their future dreams, their economic opportunity, how warm they can keep their home, and whether or not they will be able to keep it. These are real people, and now would be a great time to face the real people who are affected by your policies; separate yourself from the abstract political power plays going on here in Washington.
Refuse any offer of, or attempt at intimidation – gentle or otherwise – by union members, ordinary citizens, or anyone on any side of the issues at hand. Keep police at a distance – don’t make it look like you are weak, fearful; a sissy. When speaking privately, in public; and most importantly to the press, always be complimentary regarding the people in general and your constituents in particular. Always be deferential; always remember who you work for. Being a member of Congress or the Senate is not your right – the power is not yours, you are only a steward or it; the people hold the power.
They may want you to do something quite different than what you want to do. If you think what they want is folly, you must persuade them that it’s folly and that there is a better way. If you can’t, it’s probably you who is in the wrong. Remember, we, the small ‘d’ democrats of all political parties have always believed that the grand wisdom is in the hearts of the multitude. Sometimes they will make mistakes. So be it; we will correct it later. Historically it has consistently been lousy leadership that made all the big mistakes anyway, not the people.”
He should have said… “It wasn’t the powerful who created the Magna Carta, the Declaration of our Independence from the elites in London, or the Constitution of the United States of America – it was ‘the people.’ I live in ‘the people’s house,’ we are engaged in ‘the people’s business,’ we spend ‘the people’s money,’ the U.S. Constitution is ‘the people’s document,’ – none of it belongs to any elected or appointed officials any more than it belongs to that slightly overweight person on the center aisle three rows back at your townhall meeting. Respect ‘the people.’
We curse the idea of governance without consent of ‘the people.’ Persuade them or accommodate them, but we will not do governance without consent of the people! The future of freedom in the world depends on them not you. The security of the United States depends on them. The permanence of our form of government depends on them. So learn to trust them. I’ll see you all in September.”