Friday, November 18, 2005

In this post, Northshore journalist Jeff Berkowitz hands down a scathing indictment on the perceieved failings of Congressman Mark Kirk, who represents much of the viewing area for "Public Affairs," Berkowitz's thoughtful and wonkishly erudite discussion program. Berkowitz has long bemoaned Kirk's recent reluctance to appear as a guest(though Kirk did oblige him with a telephone interview on social security). Berkowitz also raises some mostly deserved critcisms of Kirk's colleague to the south Danny Davis, which he sums up with the astonishing conclusion that Kirk has Davis's "voice" but lacks his "substance." Exucse me? Kirk just oozes substance. After all, he spent an entire career in DC-much of which was serving constituents in the 10th in Porter's office-and is already chairman of the moderate GOP Tuesday Group. Davis, on the other hand, will be best remembered for the publicity he generated by participating in a Moonie coronation.

Writes Mr. Berkowitz:
"With that kind of congressional incumbent power...Commander Kirk flexes his political muscles, and the cooperating print and electronic media decline to challenge his frequent non-answers, say on issues such as social security reform, or his dramatic drop-off from thirty-three forums to one or two in each election season."

He assumes that Kirk's opponents would cooperate in such a "forum" and fails to note that any demands they made have made for debates are motivated not by a desire to promote popular enlightenment-however noble that may be-but a narrowly construed self interest that dicates debates as necessities for struggling candidates but generally unwarranted for safe incumbents.

Berkowitz seems to assert an unspoken duty of elected officials to communicate with constituents through interviews and other non-press conference media interactions. (Kirk has been interviewed by free lance journalists and PACs, among others, and that does not include the dialouge snippets in the Daily Herald, but has, for reasons that may have to do with scheduling, declined repeated requests to appear on Berkowitz's program.) Where does this right begin and end? Does Berkowitz think constituents are entitled to see the congressman's Black Berry?

I also fail to see Berkowitz's logic in characterizing Kirk as "the stealth congressman from the 10th." Is there any member of the delegation-or, for that matter, any officeholder whatsoever-who would meet his exacting standards? It ain't easy being a US Representative.Why, then, does Kirk earn this appellation and not say, Bobby Rush? Or Jan Schakowsky? Or, for that matter, the most "absent"-both physically from the district and from his constituents' concerns-of the delegation-Lane Evans. Luckily for him, the Quad Cities are outside Mr. Berkowitz's viewing area.

By virtue of the awkward nature of the office(in addition to, in some cases, districts of large geographic size) no member of the Illinois congressional delegation can have as much contact-be it through press conferences or debates-as other officeholders do. US Representative is an ignored and underappreciated office-always presumed to be too encumbered by DC duties to be as accessible as a state rep, and too lowly to merit statewide notice. Mr. Berkowitz capitalizes on his position in the journalistic world for admirable purposes-to increase the popular interest level in politics as well as dispensing sound information about public policy. His frustrations are understandable-no one would turn down an opprotunity to interview with a US Representative-I surely wouldn't. However, he fails to realize the divergence between the unspoken duties of a US Representative to make reasonable efforts to keep his or her constituents apprised of developments and the duty of a US Representative to perform a personal favor by obliging a particular request.


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