In the fall of 2005, after the Senate Judiciary Committee had approved John Robert’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 13 to 5, I became curious as to why the senior Senator from my State of Illinois had cast one of the “no” votes. I decided to send a letter of inquiry to the Senator via his website to find out. I was 55 years old at the time with this being my first letter to any elected official about any subject.
I had watched a considerable part of the confirmation hearing and thought that Roberts had handled the process quite well. It was fairly obvious that he was quite a conservative nominee, but I did not think that should matter much. He was as qualified as anyone in the United States, even though he was fairly young for a Supreme Court nominee. Somewhat naively, I believed that the vote for his approval, whether in committee or in the full Senate should be based on merit and temperament rather than political drift.
I carefully composed my letter and hit the “send” key. I received a timely, well-written response from the Office of the Senator, and it was more than I had expected. Although the letter had the readability and content of a plain-vanilla reply written for general purposes, it was quite thoughtful and seemed genuine. Actually, I was pleased to have received any response at all. Even though I suspected that the letter had been written by a junior staffer, it seemed to have been well-reasoned and, possibly, honed by the Senator himself prior to distribution. All and all, I was satisfied with his response even though I thought his vote went the wrong way. 4 years later, I am not so sure. Maybe I made a rookie mistake. Who knows? I suspect that it is too early to tell.
It took quite awhile before I wrote another letter. I drafted the next one to Senator Durbin several months ago. I don’t recall much of the specific language, but the gist of my letter centered around the Senator’s whereabouts in the health care debate. I had read his statements on his website, but I was curious as to why his public profile on the topic was so low. This was the period when Baucus and his gang of an indeterminate number ran the health care show (seems like eons ago, doesn’t it?). Was Senator Durbin, as Majority Whip, staying out-of-the-way until final vote tally time, getting ready for the big-whip, or what? Anyway, I thought that I might make a rather general inquiry as to his involvement in the process.
It was about 3 weeks later that I received a reply. OK, a little tardy, but it was a response. It was also, disappointingly, quite general and bland. I remember thinking that it wasn’t much better than a grammatically correct high school term paper. I gave it a grade of C+. It would have been a B- had it been delivered a little more promptly. The letter had not really delivered anything other than the most general of platitudes. Disgusted with this response, I figured that I was done writing letters to my Senator – that is, until I read a short piece by the economist, Paul Krugman.
This is the piece that inspired me to write letter # 3 to Senator Durbin: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/the-senate-becomes-a-polish-joke/
My letter of inquiry was fired off almost the instant that I had finished reading the Krugman article. I wanted to know what Senator Durbin’s opinion was, if he had one, on the Krugman piece. Was the Senate indeed becoming a joke where, like in 17th century Poland, any Senator could stand up and scream, “No,” and the whole process would come to a halt? It seemed a fair enough question. After all, this was a question from a liberal citizen from Springfield, Illinois, to a liberal Senator from Springfield, Illinois (I believe we even had the same barber in the 1970’s) about a piece written by a liberal economist? This would just be three ordinary, middle-age guys comparing notes, right? Wrong.
It’s been about 5 weeks now, and not a peep. Maybe the interns are on break . . . .
5 years – 3 letters – 2 replies – 1 still in draft form??
(Update May 12, 2010 : A full 2 months since my original inquiry and still no reply. I think it’s safe to assume that I can stop waiting. Not a bit surprised though. I believe that I can safely infer that the Senator’s Office only replies to mail inquiries that are convenient or self-serving.)