A Republican Congresswoman’s district survey, annotated by a “Democrat” constituent

My Congressional representative wants my input for her annual district survey. I just received it in the mail, and I’m glad she asked. But as I started to fill in the checkboxes, I realized that “yes,” “no,” and “unsure” were not adequate responses to her questions. Part of the problem is that issues are complicated, making “yes” or “no” far too simplistic as answers. And part of the problem is that I’m ambivalent on some issues. But mostly, the problem with this official district survey is the questions themselves: Some are ambiguous, and some are clearly designed to elicit a response that confirms Congresswoman Wagner’s already conservative views. I know, of course, that this is not an independent, scientific public opinion poll [if there even is such a thing], and more of a public-relations tool.  And I understand that she’s not really interested in my answers, but I can’t resist the urge to parse the survey from my knee-jerk leftie point of view.

So, I have reluctantly checked the boxes. But almost all of them require explanation. So, I probably should send Congresswoman Wagner an annotated version.

Here are the survey’s 12 questions, with my comments:

1. Do you believe the country is on the right track?

I’m fairly sure Wagner’s preferred response to this question is “Wrong track.” That’s the standard Republican line. But this is a troubling question–one that is commonly cited in polls by legislators, pundits and corporate media to make the point that America is dissatisfied. But right and wrong track mean different things to different people. Wagner and other conservative Republicans would have us believe that America is on the “wrong track” because of overspending and over-regulation by government. They see the “right track” as cuts in spending–not for the military or for corporate subsidies–but cuts in social programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food security programs, etc. I see the right-wing devotion to budget slashing as the “wrong track.”  They would call President Obama–the man himself and everything they think he represents–“wrong track.”

I view social programs and progressive values as the “right track.” So, how do I answer this question? I think we’re on the “wrong track” if we allow extreme right-wing conservative policies to continue to gain the  momentum that Wagner prizes. Yet, I can’t say we’re on the “right track,” because people like Wagner keep getting elected to Congress.  Verdict: No answer to this question.

2. What is your top priority?

The choices offered in this section are revealing:  Jobs and Economy, Spending and Debt, Education, Healthcare, Military and Veterans, The Right to Life, Second Amendment, Energy, Immigration, Tax Policy. Rather than an open-ended list, in which we are free to come up with our own, top-of-mind priorities, Wagner’s array  not-so-subtly reminds us that her agenda emphasizes anti-reproductive rights, guns, anti-immigration policies and tax cutting.  I am, in fact, very concerned about guns–in the sense that there are too many of them and too many gun-promoting lawmakers. But I don’t want to check that box, because my answer will be misinterpreted. My answer: Healthcare, just for spite, because Wagner is in the anti-Affordable-Care-Act camp.

3.  How concerned are you with the Federal deficit and recent shutdowns?

There are two questions embedded here, so I can’t answer with a single check mark. By including a question about the Federal deficit, Wagner isn’t really asking a question, she’s making a statement about her platform. If you self-identify as a Republican, you’re obliged to spout the anti-deficit talking point. And sure, people like to say they’re concerned about the deficit, but does anyone really believe that this is what American voters care about? As for me, I’m not so sure that deficit spending by the federal government is such a bad thing. So, if given a chance to vote on that subject alone, I’d probably check “Not Concerned At All,” just to sound as un-Wagnerian as possible.

But the survey question is complicated by its second  phrase, “recent shutdowns.” Republicans have tried to blame the October 2013 federal government shutdown on their favorite evil villain Barack Obama and his “Democrat” allies. Most of us aren’t buying that.  This half of the survey question rates a “Very Concerned,” but probably not for the reasons Wagner is looking for.  I’m “Very Concerned” that Congressional representatives like Wagner are turning the people they’re supposed to represent into collateral damage of their Obama hatred, not just by a two-week, temper-tantrum government shutdown, but by a years-long shutdown of democracy and governance.  But, given the nature of the question posed in the survey, I don’t have a good option for an answer.  I’m going with the namby-pamby “Somewhat Concerned.”

4. Do you believe that further shutdowns should be off the negotiating table, regardless of the circumstances?

A second reference to shutdowns is telling. Reading between the lines, I sense that Wagner, like other hardline, anti-governance Republicans, is feeling the public-opinion heat about the October 2013 shutdown. But the kicker here is the phrase “regardless of the circumstances.” She’s leaving herself some wriggle room to go for another extreme tactic, and asking her constituents to give her permission, just in case some vague circumstance dear to right-wing hearts, makes it “necessary” to do it again. For this question, I have a definite answer: “Yes”

5. Do you support continuously increasing the debt limit to finance current spending levels?

My answer is, again, a definite “Yes.” But, again, I don’t think that’s what Wagner is looking for. Frankly, I never really concerned myself with the debt limit, until Republicans starting making a false issue of it. Most of us don’t really understand the three D words– the debt, the debt limit and the deficit– anyway. But in Republican speak, they are things to oppose, as are “current spending levels,” no matter how inadequate they are and who they hurt. I think I can guess how Wagner will vote on the next debt limit extension.

6. What do you believe is the single best tool to get our deficit spending under control?

My choices are “Cutting spending,” “Increasing taxes, ” and “Unsure.” Once again, it’s the question that’s important here, because it comes fully equipped with the assumption that I oppose deficit spending.  Truth is, I think there’s a very good case to be made for deficit spending by the federal gummint, as a way of doing the big things that individuals can’t do, and that private industry won’t do unless there’s a profit angle involved. But that’s another post, entirely. The answer most diametrically opposed to the preferred response is “Increasing taxes.” So, that’s the one I’m checking.

 7. What do you think Congress should do about Obamacare?

Naturally, Wagner refers to the Affordable Care Act as Obamacare, probably because she sees the nickname as perjorative. She may also be using “Obamacare” because other [purportedly real] public-opinion polls indicate that people don’t know that the two are the same thing, and that, when asked if they support the Affordable Care Act, they say “yes,” but when asked about “Obamacare,” they tend to respond negatively.

As to what Congress “should do” about Obamacare, “repeal it” is not a real option, and Wagner already knows this–but giving her respondents this box to check helps reinforce her conservative cred. I’ve checked “Leave It Alone,” because that’s going to be Wagner’s least favorite choice. But I really mean “Try to fix it,” with the emphasis on “try.” The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. All of the huge social programs implemented in the U.S. have needed adjustments over time, and Congress has generally made good-faith efforts to fix the flaws that emerged only after the programs went into full action. Instead of spending the past four years stomping their feet and screaming “repeal” over and over again, lawmakers could have used some of that energy to tweak parts of the law that needed work. But, in light of the hatred for the Affordable Care Act expressed by Congress–and some state legislatures–I don’t want to check “Try to fix it,” because I’m afraid of the “fixes” they might make to undermine the whole deal.

8. Do you believe the NSA is just doing its job and should be left alone, or that is has overstepped its authority and needs to be restrained by Congress?

That’s clearly a push-poll type question. But in this case, liberals and conservatives seem to agree. I’m checking “Restrain the NSA.”

9. Have your healthcare costs increased, decreased or stayed the same since the implementation of Obamacare?

For propaganda purposes, Wagner probably wants me to say “Increased.” In fact, I’m on Medicare and a supplemental plan, so “Obamacare” doesn’t really affect me directly. [But we also need to remember that the “implementation” of Obamacare started several years ago, not just with the propaganda-friendly inept rollout of the website. Many of its provisions have been helping people for several years. There are a lot of macro cost savings that will begin to kick in only after enrollment expands.] But I don’t have the option to say all of that. So, just to be contrary, I’m checking “Decreased.”

10. Do you believe it is unfair to require faith-based organizations to provide health services that are inconsistent with their religious convictions?

Wait, I have to pause for a moment to figure out what “Yes” means and what “No” means in response to this question. Once again, the question reveals more about the asker than the responder. By “health services,” Wagner means, of course, reproductive services–abortions, abortion counseling, possibly even contraceptives. We get the message, Ann. So, because I think reproductive services should be a healthcare right, and because I think religious institutions have far too much influence in our society and should not be enabled to impose their beliefs on the rest of us,  and because I enjoy giving the wrong answer, I’ve checked “No.”

 11. Do you believe government should play a larger or smaller role in people’s lives?

Government can be good. Government pays your salary, Ann. “Larger.”

12. Do you believe the economy is going to get better in the next year?

The macro economy? “Yes.” The personal economy of Americans outside of the economic elite? “No”– not if you and your right-wing friends continue to pass corporate-backed laws that punish poor people for being poor and give even more advantages to people who don’t need them.

Whew. Simple survey made complex.