By Arthur H. Gunther III
If “government is of the people, by the people, for the people,” or at least if there is the slightest pretense of that, then the “people” get to communicate with officialdom, right? But what happens if Big Brother does not answer?
It’s the newest way of dealing with the masses, it seems. At least with the mass that is me. I’m beginning to feel as if I am the child who asks too many questions and is simply ignored, dismissed as it were.
When I WAS a child, way back, I wrote a letter to President Eisenhower following his moderate heart attack in Colorado (1955). Since I was just going on 13, it wasn’t a deep missive. The wish was for a speedy recovery. Why I wrote I do not recall. At about the same time I was sending letters to the queen of England and to the short story editors of the Saturday Evening Post.
Ike’s Sherman Adams penned a nice reply and so did the Post editor, and I have always been grateful for that, thankful that these busy men took time out to at least have letters written to a young fellow whose handwriting was barely readable. The queen didn’t respond, but I figured she was was still mad at the colonialists.
Over the years, into adulthood and seniorhood, there have been other letters and usually replies. Not always the answers I sought or from the actual people I intended to reach, but still replies. Not a bad record in this participating democracy, so I have been humming the citizenship counts tune for a long time.
Until recently. Story #1: When President Obama took office, there was a well-publicized push by his staff that he would be the “Internet president” and that the people could more easily communicate with him and his powerful office. The hope was that the White House, like the Congress, usually so well courted by lobbyists and other special interests, would be accessible in the spirit of “government by the people, etc.” A comprehensive website was established to leave comment, and you can check a box if you seek reply. Now, no one expect a busy president in a busy world to read all his e-mail, especially the huge volumes of web messages, but his staff should, if that’s the promise. And there should at least be a form letter response.
But nada, on several occasions. And I wrote clearly expressed letters, to the point. I’m in the writing business.
Story #2: In my part of the people’s government area, near the mighty Hudson River, there is a 57-year-old bridge across the Tappan Zee (Sea) that was built quickly in the mid-1950s to accommodate the new Thruway then slashing its way through New York State to New York City. It was constructed cheaply, and that was just the wrong thing to do since government’s failure over successive decades to provide a major truck route to New England has now overloaded the crossing. Some experts say it should be replaced, though there is debate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, courted by the trucking industry and construction companies and unions, is hell bent on building a new crossing. And without what the locals, including myself, see as a full environmental review, especially concern for the river’s estuary and for South Nyack and Tarrytown, the landing points for the planned two bridges. There is no mass transit component for commuters, no regard for the localities and the extra air and visual pollution that will result. And the bridges will not provide enough lanes for traffic that continues to expand exponentially. They will be obsolete the day they open.
Since I authored about 100 editorials and a number of columns on the various bridge replacement proposals during my years as editorialist for The Journal-News, the area newspaper, I wrote the governor, including a personal message about how I and his father Mario, a previous governor, bantered at Editorial Board meetings. That was not bragging, but at least a way to get his staff to read a letter of concern, one expressing the interests of residents. I thought I could get his ear and help in the dialogue. But, again, not even a form letter reply to both email and old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service delivery.
Sad in these days of ever-more powerful special interests that it seems only those with money can get to our officials. Guess it’s now “government of the lobbies, by the lobbies, for the lobbies.”