Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Open letter to John Faso

February 1, 2017

Dear Representative Faso,

Congratulations on your victory in last November’s election. You have the privilege of serving our country at an unprecedented time. And that means that you have a chance to play a much more meaningful role than the typical freshman member of Congress.

You won your election by a sizeable margin, so there can be no question that, among the people in our district who bothered to vote, a majority preferred that you represent us in Washington, rather than Zephyr Teachout.

And similarly, of those in our district who bothered to vote, a majority clearly preferred that Donald Trump be president rather than Hillary Clinton. It’s true that, nationally, Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by a historic margin for a person who won, but it’s also true that we don’t have a national popular vote and that Mr. Trump got the votes where they mattered and was duly elected under our system, and that he was the more popular choice in our district.

The question is, what did the people of our district mean to vote for when they filled in the bubble for Donald Trump, and for you.

A colleague of yours has introduced a resolution to make it easier to drill for oil in National Parks. Even among your constituents who favor increased energy extraction, how many do you think actually favor sacrificing these particular places that have been set aside for future generations to enjoy?

National polling suggests that not quite 1 voter in 5 wants a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, while about half want to repeal some of the law, while almost a third want it left as is. I don’t know of polling within our district, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers were similar. The hitch here is the nature of those parts that people want to repeal. The most common one I’ve heard of is eliminating the mandate that individuals buy health insurance, while preserving the requirement that insurers sell affordable policies to people with pre-existing conditions. Another popular favorite is sure to be eliminating the new taxes that were part of the bill. While that might be a nice outcome, do you think the people of our district understand that it’s not actually possible? Do you understand that it’s not actually possible? (If you’re not sure why that is, I’d be happy to explain it to you.)

Is your job as an elected representative to vote for what people want, even if it’s a unicorn? Or is it understand the options that are actually possible, and then work with your constituents to see which of the actually possible paths they want to follow?

You say you oppose the travel ban that was so chaotically rolled out last Friday, and I’m glad to hear it. But you’re one of the few people in the country in a position to actually do something about that. Do you think your constituents want you to just talk a good game, or do they expect you to advance real legislation and take votes to preserve the values of our country and the functioning of our government?

As a candidate, Donald Trump said he was against cutting Social Security and Medicare, and yet Congress is now working on gutting Medicare in all but name, and the new secretary of Health and Human Services wants to trim Social Security, and the nominee to direct the Office of Management and Budget wants to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70. Is that really what your voters wanted you to support in Washington?

I could go on, but you get the point.

And underlying these there is a candidate for the matter that ties these disparate issues together, and that is the remarkable role of Steve Bannon in the first 12 days of the new administration.

When tape came out showing Rev. Wright saying, “God damn America,” Barack Obama distanced himself from his former pastor and explained how he didn’t disagree with him.

So far as I know, Steve Bannon has never said, “God damn America,” but he has apparently said, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.

And rather than distancing himself, Mr. Trump has brought Mr. Bannon into the White House, and gone so far as to place him on the principals group within the National Security Council, while having experienced military and intelligence professionals take a step back.

As far as we can tell, Mr. Bannon was a key plyer in drafting the entry ban and doing so in a way that avoided useful scrutiny and vetting by the branches of government that would be tasked with carrying it out. Is he so sure of his own genius that he thinks he doesn’t need input from people with actual experience of governing? Or is it that he knows exactly what he’s doing?

And it has emerged that the administration engaged the work of staffers to Congressman Goodlatte, but insisted they not tell their own boss, going so far as to have them sign nondisclosure agreements.

Bannon says he doesn’t recall the remark about being a Leninist who wants to destroy government, but his actions are consistent with the sentiment, whether he actually said it or not.

In principle, presidents deserve to have their own people advising them, but are there no limits to this? Do you personally have a line beyond which you think our very structure of government is under threat?

Your leadership in Congress wants you to go along with the entry ban; they want you to go along in general. That’s how politics usually works in this country: you go along with your party, particularly if you're a brand-new member just elected a couple months earlier.

As you can probably tell, you and I differ on what makes for a constructive political agenda. But what political agenda is so important that it is worth undercutting such key structures of our government as the independence of Congress?

This new administration is extraordinary. I hope you can recognize that. And I hope you can see the opportunity this presents you to be more than a cog in somebody else’s machine, but to stand up for your own constituents, your own voters.

I trust that you will act with wisdom and foresight,

Karl Seeley
Oneonta, NY