People say that all politics is local, so getting involved in local politics is of course one of the first steps one can take in feeling like your voice matters. But I think the most important thing one can do to contribute is to stay informed. That alone puts you above such a large portion of the population, it's scary. Being informed means that when it comes time to make a decision, either in your private life or publicly at the polls, you won't be deciding based on your "gut instinct." I believe you can see pretty clearly the results of acting purely on gut instinct; witness the current administration.
However when it comes to politics I try to go a small degree beyond just staying informed. I annoy my friends with news and opinions, including maintaining this blog, and I call and write to my Congress-critters. But it's hard work to fend off my cynicism living in a Red State where my beliefs are so frequently attacked, or worse, ignored. Especially when it comes from my own Representatives.
I've written to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the past about the Texas constitutional marriage amendment and the McCain-Feingold finance reform bill. Each time she's slapped me down, replying in harsh tones that indicated I was not her constituent, and that my opinion did not matter. So I was not a bit surprised for her latest slap regarding the Alito confirmation process. Here's the letter her office sent me:
Dear Mr. Hippie:
Thank you for contacting me regarding nominations to the United States Supreme Court. I welcome your thoughts and comments on this issue.
On July 1, 2005, Associate Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her intention to retire from the bench, creating the first such vacancy on the court since 1994. Her announcement set into motion a process, as outlined in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, whereby the President nominates a replacement to the Court and the Senate advises and consents on the nomination.
It is critical to our democracy that well-qualified men and women are nominated to serve on our nation's highest court. Senators have a constitutional responsibility to carefully consider each nomination to the bench based on the individual's qualifications and judicial temperament. In carrying out this important function, the Senate must ensure the integrity of our judicial system.
On October 31, 2005, President George W. Bush nominated Samuel A. Alito Jr. to succeed Justice O'Connor. Since 1990, Judge Alito has served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where he decided more that 1,500 cases dealing with complex, constitutional, criminal, and civil disputes and where he authored hundreds of opinions. Prior to his appointment on the bench, Judge Alito served as a U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, prosecuting white collar and environmental crimes, drug trafficking, organized crime, and violations of civil rights. Judge Alito also served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel, providing constitutional advice for the Executive Branch. In addition, Judge Alito served as Assistant to the Solicitor General, arguing 12 cases before the supreme court and dozens of cases before the federal court of appeals. Samuel Alito started his career in the Third Circuit, clerking for Judge Leonard Garth, and later serving as the Assistant U.S. attorney in the appellate division. Judge Alito received his bachelor's degree from Princeton University and attended Yale Law school, where he served as editor on the Yale Law Journal.
It is clear that president Bush has selected a highly qualified person with a brilliant legal mind. Judge Alito has been unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate twice and is known as a jurist who is committed to the rule of law and understands that the proper role of a judge is to strictly interpret the law, not legislate from the bench. It is critical that Judge Alito be given the opportunity to show the Senate and the entire nation why he would make a superb Supreme Court Justice. We must make this process fair and free from partisan politics. The Senate should act expeditiously on his nomination.
I appreciate hearing from you and hope you will not hesitate to keep in touch on any issue of concern to you.
Kay Bailey Hutchison
(All emphasis is mine.) Wow. She went to great lengths to talk about Alito's experience with the breadth and depth of the judiciaries responsibilities, without taking a moment to address my original concern: Alito would shift the court to the right as a very conservative replacement to O'Connor, and that such a move further solidifies Bush's stance as a divider, not a uniter. Incidentally I also found it amusing that she took a slap at Harriet Miers too, but whatever. Mostly I was disappointed by how little her office really cared about engaging a discussion with those who disagree; the letter arrived at my house weeks after Alito was finally confirmed. Furthermore she provided scant compelling evidence of Alito's capability to judge fairly - just his capability to judge.
But I am pleased with how well I've been able to eschew apathy. It's just a matter of perspective. To quote a family friend and former Texas congressman Carl Parker,
If you took all the fools out of the legislature, it wouldn't be a representative body anymore.True, that.