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GUEST COMMENTARY Davis must be willing to listen By JOHN MURPHY Rep. Radney Davis hates town halls: “1 will not accept invitations that are put out by those who are politically opposed no matter what I say or da.” He finds “it very frustrating that those who are politically opposed to me” have “taken advantage” of his office hours ta complain. Talking with his opponents, he believes, is useless: “You have a chance to do what you're going to do anyway, go vote as you always have voted against mc.” Tes easy to understand his per spective, We live ina partisan tne; our representatives become the focus of our fury. In 2010, angry people flooded forums toatiack President Barack Obama's health care plan, and dozens of Dem ‘ocrats lost their seats in the chaos. Republicans like Davis learned that lesson. Those who register ahead of time can ask him aques- tion on the phone or in an office hour. Mostly, he wants nothing to do with constituents who think he is wrang: “The last thing anyone does in my business is take advice from people who are politically opposed to you and have one agenda. It’s all about ‘campaign politics.” Davis has a rather limited and artisan definition of his duties. His “business” is not campaign poli tics but democracy. James Madison wrote a “dependence on the people” is the main way to prevent govern- ment from abusing power. ‘The Founders designed the House of Representatives specifically as the people's branch. Madison noted, “tis a sound and important prinei- ple that the representative ought to be acquainted with the interests and sircumstances of his constituents.” ‘Madison did not say “the interests and circumstances of his support- ers.” Like all districts, the 13th is a com- plicated place. Farmers, teachers, butchers, bakers and even a few can- dlestick makers vie for Davis’ atten- tion, Some agree with him, and some do not. Some like him, and some do not That's OK Ins democreey, everyone gets their say. Hes David day tite, even when | ‘even ‘when they are rude. Former Rep, ‘Tim Johnson called citizens out of the blue and asked for their views, Republican Rep. Earl “Buddy” Cart- ‘er represents the Savannah, Ga., area. He held nine town halls during the August 2017 recess, answered dozens of questions and got booed. People sometimes need to blow off steam. Carter gets that. It's also tell- ‘ng that Davis thinks only opponents will show up. Presumably, he could draw supporters, too, and that might Jead to healthy arguments. There's abig difference between “hate and vitriol,” in Davis’ words, and debate. ‘donot think people around here are hateful. We simply want to talk. Such debate matters to democra- scics.I teach public argument for alliving. Every year, students read and give speeches that change lives. Each time they study Martin Luther King Jr's “I Have a Dream” or Ron- ald Reagan's D-Day address, they igrow. The congressman docs not sscem to believe in persuasion or con- sensus. By his lights, people always stay the same, and democracy is lim- ited to voting. But good arguments truly can change minds. It's doubtful the next King or Rea- gan will appear at a local forum. But a lot of decent, worried, tired, com- ‘mitted and caring citizens will speak, ‘They'll work on questions ahead of time, develop their ideas and invite friends along for support, because public apoaking is scary. Bometimes, they'll get angry, and it can’t pleasant to be on the receiving end. ‘Teachers like me understand that. Yet in a forum, people debate, ‘debate exercises democratic muscles. Argument clarifies issues, sharpens ideas and develops new points of view, Paradoxically, one of the only ways to rise above the parti- sanship Davis decries isto try to find common ground amid disagreement. ‘Democracy assumes that many heads are better than one, that talk- ing is better than fighting and that listening enables us to live well with one another. Democracy depends on free and frank deliberation, not pri vate conversation, because public debate gets people out of their silos and into their communities Deliberation helps us, Madison wrote, “to refine and enlarge the public views.” Listening makes par tisan politicians into public servants, In 1941, President Franklin Roo- sevelt famously said that the US. and its allies fought for freedom of speech, freedom of worship, free- dom from want and freedam from fear. When Norman Rockwell illus- trated freedom of speech, he painted a young man speaking at a town hall. ‘That’show citizens make democracy come alive. John Murphy is an associate professor in the Department of Communications at the University of Iinoks.