The Tyranny of BandWidth
In previous posts I’ve talked about various Tyrannies that Constitutions are designed to minimize. One of these, which for want of a better term, I’ve been calling the Tyranny of Bandwidth, or rather lack of it. This is the problem that McCain-Feingold was designed to address. It is the problem that causes citizens to bemoan the state of Congress and expect corruption in every dark corner of the government. The fact is that we don’t know what’s going on and we can’t know what’s going on.
A Representative in the US Congress is expected to carry the message to Washington from approximately 650 thousand people, as of the 2000 Census. If the business textbooks are right, your Rep will be able to manage about 7 staffers, paying reasonably close attention to what they tell him and what they are working on. So there is approximately one top-level advisor for each 100,000 people in the district.
Since the people cannot really meet their Rep and get the benefit of personal interaction, they must rely on the image projected, an image carefully honed over the years. This image is the Rep’s greatest strength and biggest weakness. People relate to it and vote for it, providing the necessary power to promote their interests. Conversely, anything that might tarnish or damage the image is very much to be feared, and that fear makes our Reps vulnerable to manipulation.
It is very difficult to get elected. The challenge cannot be overstated. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to win the trust and affection of such a large constituency. There are many temptations and pressures on the average elected official. Nevertheless, there are a lot of well-intentioned, good and competent people in government. Yes, they tend to have different ideas from one another, but that does not make them bad. That makes them promoters of a particular aspect of the people’s will. Unfortunately, Reps are surrounded by people promoting selfish interests, baying for attention to their particular issue. Among the howling masses are people who can help them or hurt them – powerful people with non-negotiable desires. Corporate representatives, for instance, are duty bound to further the financial interests of their company by whatever legal means they have in their power. They have certainly been known to use less than legal means as well.
Politicians keep these people in line by means of ambiguity. They never agree or disagree with anything but thevaguest outline of a possible plan that they will be glad to talk about, "not saying we can make any commitments you understand," at some unspecified time in the future. The longer you can keep them dangling, the better. The interest groups, in their turn, influence the Reps by means of various inducements, implied threats and the exhortations concerning the inherit virtues of their plans, with respect of course to the interests of the public and the future of the nation. They surround the Rep with the best sales team that money can buy, flooding all the channels of access with information, disinformation and lies promoting their ideas. Sometimes they pretend to be other than they are in order to gain tactical information about the true positions held by the Rep. If the Rep is hungry they will offer food, if angry they will cower. After a long session they just happen to have season tickets on the 50-yard line where they might continue the conversation at the game the next day. Better use them, otherwise they’ll just go to waste.
There’s not much room for the people’s interest to squeeze in between the cracks. Your Rep will try to open channels, remain in contact, find the pulse of the people, but time is limited and the picture will be skewed by the meme assault from the lobbyists. And as for you, the individual, there is precious little chance to be heard.
5/30/2005 11:57 PM