Sunday, April 06, 2008

Congressman McNerney hits the Manteca street.

Congressman Jerry McNerney surfaced at the "street faire" in central Manteca and met with and spoke to people on the street. He didn't stray too far from the booth being run by the Democratic Party and I got to ask a few questions!

First, despite having political differences, mainly caused by the fact that he's a democrat, I have to respect that he has the courage to just meet people on the public street and discuss political issues. That's got to be tough! You never know which type of crackpot you might meet next.

I think he was well briefed for my questions, with one exception. I'll get to that.

There are some photos of the congressman at the event here. I wish I'd gotten a picture with the congressman. Maybe I was afraid to let anyone hold my camera although most of the people there seemed friendly even though they were democrats.

I was introduced to the congressman as "the guy who gives the school board hell." I guess that's a nice intro. (I'm thinking "ya heard a me?") So then the congressman launched into the party line about how we don't value education enough (meaning we don't spend enough) yada yada... I had to interject that education is so important that we have to stop wasting money on and forcing everyone to attend failing government run schools. When I mentioned I'm in favor of "school choice" the congressman chuckled at that and we agreed that was a discussion for another day.

This is a good reason to always keep with you a list of "the questions you want to ask a politician should you ever meet one." Like, if you met President Bush today, or this minute, what would you ask? Or the governor? A city councilman? Whoever.

So, working from the list, I hit him with the #1 question I've been meaning to ask a democratic congressman: "We (well, not me, but that's beside the point) voted for you (the democrats) to end a war, and all we got was an increase in the minimum wage!?"

He picked up on the minimum wage comment first. He asked if I'm an "employer" or a business owner? This is typical in California -- no one wants to give their viewpoint until they figure out what you probably want to hear. So I just said "well lets just say I'm some guy" (probably a safe bet). And I asked "Why don't I have the right to my own labor? Like, if I want to work or do a thing for five dollars an hour, why shouldn't that be my right?"

He went on to the classic defense of the "minimum wage" which I don't have to repeat here except I think it involved "helping" some mysterious "little guy" by some vague means. This is the mistake of confusing the intention of a law with what it actually does. There's not a single economist who will say the minimum wage helps anyone more than it harms.

So when he finished explaining how he's trying to help the little guy with the minimum wage, I then asked "but those policies hurt the little guy..." and he asked "how so" and looked at me like he'd never heard such blasphemy before. I launched into a short explanation that if someone doesn't have the skills to produce above some arbritrary minimum level the law says you may not hire that person. And that doesn't "help" the little guy. He suggested that any job should be able to pay a certain minimum amount. This of course is nonsense, but it was time to get back to the main point.

What about that "war" going on? He explained how "we just don't have the votes" to end the war. He did say something about how terrible the war was and how much it was costing, the American lives lost, etc. (the party line again.) I asked him, "apart from the cost in American dollars and American lives, what about the cost in human life?" He looked around, wary that anyone would see him express sympathy for non-American human life, but he did nod and say yes. I got the feeling this was the only unscripted part of our whole talk. It's pretty sad when you can't even express the view that we shouldn't be making war on peoples who've never done any harm to us and not be afraid of criticism from someone who will call you "soft on terrorists" or whatever the concern was.

Quickly going through that list, I brought up issues of "home mortgages" and foreclosures and "bailing out" huge multi-billion dollar investment banks. I told him I didn't think it was fair to take money from ordinary careful people to give it to either people who entered into a home mortgage unwisely or to bail out multi-billionaires. He said we had to prevent "the larger collapse of the economy!" I would have challenged that crazy notion but that was about enough grilling for one day.

At this point, his assistant looked a little antsy so I decided skip over immigration, "energy policy," and medicine and finish with the election. He mentioned he's a "super delegate" for the Democratic Party and when I asked who he was favoring for president, he made a zipper to the lips type motion and said he wasn't saying.

Later, the congressman spoke to City Councilman Jack Snyder, about what I'm not sure because I was reluctant to get close enough to hear for fear some political critical mass may occur at any minute.

Next former mayor and now newspaper publisher Carlon Perry raked the congressman for not doing anything to help the people, going back to Washington DC and "forgetting all about the people you represent." The congressman did say something about how it's amazing that DC is all about some kind of quest for power and said it was astounding what happens to people there. And somehow this was related to the republicans I think. Another little lesson here is that I wish I'd spent more time carefully listening.

My general impression? Congressman McNerney reminded me of historical accounts I've read of how members of congress would have barbecues and meet with and speak with people at home gatherings and such. Democracy in action! It's unfortunate he's ignorant of economics and how certain policies hurt "little people" but so far as representation in Washington goes we could do worse. I guess.