This is my column in today’s Greenville News opinion page.  (Actually viewing online requires a subscription.)

‘Telecommuting would help our representatives.’

Dealing with the public requires a commitment to accountability. I mean in person, face-to-face, eye-to-eye accountability for one’s work and actions. As a physician, if I’m unkind, unprofessional or incompetent, eventually I’ll meet someone at a store, WalMart for example, who was less than impressed with my performance.

They may glare at me. They may walk away. I may see them and hide before we can talk. Or they may corner me and express their dissatisfaction. What could be worse than being ‘read the riot act’ in front of the ice cream case, or worse, in the presence of my of my wife or children?

So Wal Mart, or the grocery store, or the trash dump are all places where my professional personna might well meet the humans I care for, but outside the well-defined parameters of my own little medical world. And I’m not alone.

Everyone who deals with the public will eventually encounter them in public. Physician, pastor, secretary or fire-fighter, we will all face the people we work with and work for, whether they’re happy or not; and we will have to do it somewhere outside our own control.

Which brings me to politics, where this rule doesn’t always hold true. You see, our senators and representatives do visit home; but they are seldom accessible without donations or connections. They generally live in Washington, D.C.. They are shielded. They may go to the store in Washington or surrounding areas (or have someone do it for them). But the locals really don’t care so much about the opinions or activities of the representative from North Dakota or the Senator from Georgia. They’re too busy trying to save their schools from being less useful than they already are and avoiding gang violence.

What we need is a way for politicans to face the public (aka, their employers) on a regular basis. As I thought about it, I had an idea. It’s a fantasy, and unlikely to ever be implemented, but good ideas sometimes start that way.

My idea is this: ‘tele-government.’ Military commanders can watch events unfolding on the battlefield from half a world away. Corporations save money by teleconferencing all the time. Children Skype their missionary friends overseas. How hard could it be?

So here’s my suggestion. Every Senator and member of the House will have installed, in his or her actual home (in his or her actual home-state), a cutting-edge telecommunications system. The lines will be secure and important information encrypted. All of it, every note or comment, every vote or meeting, will be archived for future reference as needed by the people.

Consider the benefits. Since there would be markedly restricted travel to Washington and no need for second homes, there would also be a decreased use of fossil fuels and electricity in general. Think ‘smaller carbon footprint!’ Think lower costs. (And think less temptation to illicit behaviors far from home.)

Likewise, it will be a security win. A network of leaders scattered across the country makes for a more secure system than one where most are co-located in a vulnerable city. Especially in an age with the potential of chemical, biological and nuclear terrorism. In addition, the threat that a natural disaster or epidemic could shut down government would be significantly reduced.

In my plan, legislators would be allowed to travel to Washington three times each year, for a period of two weeks. We can negotiate on this, but if they want to go more than allowed, they or their party will pay the cost. And imagine the hardship on lobbyists of every stripe, who would need offices all over creation!

The best part is that even with the best communication systems on earth, politicians will absolutely have to go and get meals, clothes, toilet paper, formula, school supplies, alcohol, dog food and other ‘essentials.’ And when they do, they will be subject to the same anxiety as I am. ‘What if I see someone who doesn’t like me!’

Indeed. Perhaps it would shape the actions of our leaders; on the other hand, it might make leadership less attractive. Or just maybe, it would attract the sort of people we really want and need, whose hearts lie with the people, the place and the culture they represent. And for whom there’s simply no place better in all the land than home, and no one better than the folks who elected them.

The very people they’re not afraid to meet at the store.

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