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The "Constituent Person"


Yesterday, before Tim Geithner testified to the Senate Appropriations' financial services subcommittee, Ben Nelson (D) offered some introductory remarks channeling, we can only presume, the ordinary Nebraskans he works so assiduously to represent:

When I go home, I have people come to me complaining about the bailouts, complaining about TARP, complaining about putting the auto industry into bankruptcy. And they're all concerned about that. They're concerned also about the growing deficit and the increasing budget.

One thing that they're now becoming alarmed about is government ownership of stock.

I, obviously, have little knowledge of what questions Sen. Nelson's constituents ask in the privacy of their own state. Maybe -- amid health-care reform and 9-plus percent unemployment and the near-collapse of Detroit -- they're obsessed with the equity that the taxpayer is being offered in return for bailing out failing companies. But I'd be surprised.

Rather, this sounds like a conversation tic unique to politicians. Some congressmen talk in the first person. "I am concerned about this legislation." Some talk in the third person. "Bob Dole is concerned about this legislation." And some talk in the constituent person. "My constituents are concerned about this legislation." (Or the constituent-thrid person: "Bob Dole's constituents are concerned about this legislation.")

It's a neat trick but a bit low. There are things that voters are concerned about and things that elites are concerned about and things that individual politicians are concerned about. Sometimes, these are the same things. But sometimes, the constituent voice is used to make it seem like these are the same things. It's a lot like what journalists do when they drop "some say" into conversations.

(Photo credit: Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post Photo )

By Ezra Klein  |  June 10, 2009; 2:03 PM ET
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This is an astute observation, but a poor example. Based on polling and my own experience, people are uncomfortable with the bailouts, the deficit, and govt ownership. While previous administrations did much of the damage, the current administration will get most of the blame, as peoples understanding of these issues is not very sophisticated.
Fortunately for Obama, this works both ways, and most of this should dissapear by the time he is up for reelection. The deficit will look a lot better in 2012 after the stimulus is phased out, the economy recovers, and the iraq war winds down (hopefully). Its congressional democrats who are vulnerable in 2010, although Obama is then at risk for a Clinton like loss of momentum in the middle of his first term.

Posted by: CarlosXL | June 10, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Keep in mind that unemployment in Nebraska is 4.4%, less than half of the national rate. There wasn't much of a housing bubble in Nebraska. People in Nebraska are much less concerned about how their housing prices declined (they never went up much) or how they can't find a job.

Of course, one way that Senator Nelson could contribute to a reduced budget deficit in a fiscally conservative manner would be to abandon farm subsidies, ethanol subsidies, and Student Loan subsidies. But oh no, we couldn't do that.

Posted by: mlarsen2323 | June 10, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I think Americans at large are concerned about the bailouts, etc, but I doubt that Nelson gets hammered by it by his constituents. This is his Blue Dog coming out. He is concerned.

Now, I don't think he shouldn't be, I just dislike indirect speech.

If the administration started speaking more directly about timeframes and how we are going to unwind our positions, that would help.

Posted by: scott1959 | June 10, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

I'd be surprised if Ben Nelson even knows a constituent. He strikes me as a great deal like my butthead senator, Saxby Chambliss. Send him a comment on anything and you'll get back an intemperate screed that is simply a brain dump regarding whatever he's hating on lately.

It may or may not be related to what you asked. Totally random.

Posted by: evenadog | June 10, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Well, to be fair, Nelson did not use "constituent" in that citation. People, coming to him when he's at home, are hardly constituents anyway

Posted by: CCoslown | June 15, 2009 5:33 AM | Report abuse

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