It may be anomalous to use a blog to make this point, but here goes: even in this era of social networking, nothing beats face-to-face conversation. Especially on Capitol Hill.
Grudgingly, congressional offices have finally learned to use 21st century communication tools. It’s a cultural change that didn’t come easily. When some current members of Congress were first elected, there were still daily ice deliveries to each office, vegetable carts wheeling down the corridors, and Fuller Brush salesmen knocking on House and Senate doors. The technology of choice was the mimeograph machine.
That was the context for the kind of persuasion that occurred beneath a Lyndon Johnson bear hug or at Tip O’Neill’s poker table.
Inundated by robocalls, autofaxes and Astroturf campaigns, the Congress began to adjust by filtering out non-constituent spam as well as potential health hazards. Incoming congressional mail is now x-rayed so aggressively that it arrives yellowed and crumbly, if at all. Consequently, many Congressmen and Senators today base their political strategy on Twitter, Tele-TownMeetings and similar outgoing tools to reach the largest possible audience. Notwithstanding the occasional misfired (or hacked) Tweet, it’s effective and economical. And the message can be tailored further to narrow demographics.
Social networking has helped launch revolutions. And it’s essential in any enterprise today to master these tools. But for all the dialogue it appears to encourage, it still requires someone on the other end to reply. And often that someone is drowning in incomings.
That’s why when it comes to lobbying the Congress to achieve actual results, it’s still ultimately about showing up. You can email and fax and tweet; and you can generate a thousand parroted letters from “constituents”; and everyone you know is doing all the same things, aimed at the same audience. The net effect is to elevate volume, accelerate pace and distort nuance – and the resulting din is now orders of magnitude louder than in the past. To be heard above it, as a lobbyist or even as a Member of Congress trying to connect with colleagues, still requires old-fashioned foot leather.