One of the key components, perhaps the paramount one, for Jeffersonians advocating for power to reside in state and local governments rather than the federal one, was that the former was within the protesting reach of citizens; and thus could be subjected to popular pressure when said citizens felt their elected officials were not representing them.
But when the power of the federal government was made greater than state and local governments, the former entity was protectively distanced from such protests, and thus, according to Jeffersonian theory, could govern against the wishes of those who elected them (increased federal power and its remoteness was championed by Jefferson’s big government bete noir, Alexander Hamilton, who asserted that the government should be impervious to a public he denigrated as “a great beast”).
Today, although he preaches the need for small government, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan is behaving in an un-Jeffersonian manner by excluding the public from town hall meetings, and limiting audience members down to what he calls his “constituents.”
On Friday, Ryan announced that he will not appear in public at town hall meetings because of “people who are trying to come in from out of the district to disrupt town hall meetings and not have a civil discussion.”
Instead, Ryan will seek to limit his audience to only those within his district by what he calls “new and creative ways to interact with my constituents in a civil way.”
This requires shutting out the public from participating as demonstrated when he held a town hall meeting on Thursday limited to just 25 constituents.
Addressing this “group,” which was made up of employees at a Wisconsin business, Ryan justified his barring of the public and the media from townhall meetings on the specious grounds that when protesters are in the audience, constituents “clam up,” and “get a little nervous.” But “when you do business town halls, without media it is very interactive.”
Ryan has described rowdy town hallers as “bussed in from out of the district to get on TV because they are yelling at somebody.”
But those who have argued with Ryan in the past have been his own constituents, who have directly accused Ryan of selling out his promise to repeal Obamacare.
Ryan’s actions open the door to the possibility of Republicans eventually excluding constituents from town hall meetings under the guise of their supposedly being outside agitators. In that case, town hall meetings held by Ryan could be more strictly controlled or even avoided altogether.
Such actions, they believe, would not deny them re-election. For incumbents could follow the soiled tried-and-true tactic of promising voters on the ground that they will govern on their behalf, and then, once-reelected, ignore their wishes.
But the election of Trump has upended this strategy. Republican voters are clearly concluding that their elected officials are hell-bent on ignoring their concerns and that no amount of screaming at them will change such a course.
Instead, they now understand that their protest votes against those such as Ryan can actually put someone they trust to represent them into office.