Mark Zaccaria on Two Guys Named Jim
Last night I had the chance to attend two quite different public meetings.
I began at the newly reemerging Warwick Mall where Rhode Island Second District Congressman James Langevin was holding a hastily arranged public event. Although it was billed as a ‘Town Hall Meeting’ the actual ground rules Rep. Langevin established for the affair were different than that name might imply.
The fifteen or so voters who turned out were supplemented by perhaps 20 or more junior high school students who were dispatched by their teachers on the promise of extra credit. Before the formal proceedings, Mr. Langevin’s staff asked the attendees to sign up for one-on-one sessions of five minutes each with their Representative. These private exchanges were to take place near the main location of the meeting but away from observation and reaction by the whole body of assembled constituents.
The congressman began the formalities by making a rambling statement about the good economic times our state is entering and the fortitude shown by the President in Libya during recent days. The gentleman’s remarks were largely inaudible as, despite reminders, he kept inching the microphone away from its effective range. The impact on the students was swift and predictable. Cell phones at the ready they whispered and texted with one another until the distant chatter ended. Mr. Langevin has been a public figure all of his adult life. I cannot accept that he has not learned how to manage a microphone. It was intentional.
For me, though, the nadir of the meeting was reached when the opening statement was over. Several of the voters in the audience asked that they, too, be allowed to hear the questions that their peers and neighbors had for the Congressman. Mr. Langevin yielded the microphone to a staffer who drowned out that line of questioning by reiterating the ground rules for the evening in a very audible voice, while his boss made his way out of the enclosure and away from the brouhaha.
Whatever you think the rights of the voters and taxpayers might have been, you would have been most disappointed by the impact all this had on the young students. They were regaled with a demonstration of the unwillingness of a public official to even respond to those he is supposed to serve. To the kids it was one more example of why texting is the real world and government is just some impenetrable Kabuki dance. They simply shrugged it off, had their school papers signed for the credit, and repaired to the mall for some group socializing. What a wasted opportunity.
My next stop last night was Providence College where I attended a presentation by video provocateur, James O’Keefe.
Mr. O’Keefe has been branded a conservative guerrilla for the series of undercover tapings he’s made of public officials doing their work on the taxpayer’s dime. You’ve probably seen his exposé on Acorn staffers all across the country advising a pimp and prostitute on how to structure their tax filings to cover the fact that they employ underage, undocumented sex workers in their patently unlawful enterprise. If not, you may have caught his outing of Planned Parenthood staffers in a string of that company’s offices or his dinner with an NPR Fundraiser who, along with the CEO, was then forced to step down.
O’Keefe explained that his real objective was to prompt American News Media into doing this kind of investigative reporting for themselves. He went to lengths to express his outrage that as a college student without any real funding he had to do this on his own. He pointed up the vastly superior resources and network connections that traditional media outlets possess and was indignant that they seemed to be giving publicly funded organizations a pass on their blatant misuse of the taxpayer money they receive.
Unlike the other Jim, Mr. O’Keefe made his point passionately, compellingly, and without prepared notes. He then stayed to answer all questions from the audience and remained in the room long afterward to pose with attendees and hear their take on his past exploits and future plans.
The juxtaposition of the two Jims could not have been more stark.
Mr. Langevin, our Jim, was plodding through a set piece unconcerned – and maybe unaware – of the damage he was dully inflicting on everyone who was there. Mr. O’Keefe, on the other hand, swept in from his home in New Jersey and his work all over the country. He came at the request of the PC Students who’d contacted him to make the appearance. He was energized by the opportunity to connect with real Americans and show them the example of how anyone with a video camera can scoop the atherosclerotic mainstream media if they have the courage and energy to do so.
I applauded O’Keefe, along with everyone else in the room of 100 or so who listened to him. After that performance, as I thought about Our Jim, I was in mourning for the poor service we receive from him at this most critical moment in the history of both our state and nation.
Mark Zaccaria is a resident of North Kingstown, RI, where he operates a small business. He was the Republican candidate for Congress in Rhode Island’s 2nd District in 2010.