Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s longstanding Republican Senator, has had a Twitter account for ages. I have followed him for a couple of years, and I can say he’s usually about as boring as you’d expect a 77-year-old white, Midwestern politician to be: He announces “Ask Chuck” podcasts and public meetings, tweets about University of Northern Iowa basketball games, and toots his own horn. On occasion, Grassley wades grassily into the public controversy du jour, such as here and here, where he grouses about President Obama’s comments on union protests in Wisconsin. And with characteristic recalcitrance he also brings up legislation his caucus is opposing, such as he did last December during the lame-duck session regarding extensions to unemployment benefits and repeal of the Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell (DADT) law.1
On occasion, I’ve replied to Grassley or sent him an unprompted tweet asking him to vote on particular legislation. It’s probably less effective than a phone call or a letter, but since I have no money and very different politics from him, I sincerely doubt I have any influence on the man no matter how I contact him. I figure, as often as he’s using Twitter, I probably have a better chance of getting something in front of his eyes that way than anything short of meeting with him in person.
And maybe that’s right, because somebody did notice. Yesterday I received a letter from Grassley’s office in reply to two of the issues I’d written him about. The letter wasn’t timely—legislation for both issues passed in the last Congress—nor was it well conceived—it mostly rehashed GOP talking points, with added notes about Grassley’s specific contributions and votes (or lack of the same) to the matters at hand. I was surprised.
I do wonder about the value of this kind of “responsiveness” to constituents. Yes, it’s nice to be acknowledged, but it’s such mealy mouthed acknowledgement: I know how Grassley voted; I don’t need to see his post hoc justification for his votes. Worse, some poor staffer or intern had to whip together three pages of material about issues that are behind us. I can think of a dozen better things for that staffer or intern to be doing than drafting long, meaningless letters (even if they are formulaic). If the letter is necessary, let it be a brief one: “I know what you asked me to do, I disagreed, and I voted accordingly.” But coming from Washington, I suppose such plainspeak would be too much to expect, even from a farmer-politician like Grassley.
1 I’m having a terrible time finding any tweets older than a couple of days, especially since, as best I can tell, there is no way to search for tweets from a specific user or within a set time frame. Twitter needs a better search function.