To Charlie Keller, Bob Goodlatte’s DC Chief-of-Staff

Dear Charlie,

Thank you so much for meeting with me yesterday afternoon. I appreciate the hour you spent with me, especially since my appearance at the Congressman’s office was unscheduled. Even more importantly, I appreciate your willingness to engage in a sincere conversation.

Of all my concerns, it’s been the absence of meaningful responses to my letters, phone calls, open door questions, and meeting requests that I’ve found most frustrating. Every other staff member I’ve interacted with–from interns on the phone to Mr. Goodlatte’s chief-of-staff in person–quickly repeat a nearly identical, conversation-ending statement that they cannot speak for the Congressman. Though you’re his DC chief-of-staff, I understand you don’t speak for him either, but you were still willing to talk substantively about the issues I raised, offering thoughtful and detailed insights that challenged my assumptions. This is exactly the sort of exchange I’ve been seeking and advocating for, one useful for all involved.

As I said, I’ve never met the Congressman, and so my understanding of him is shaped almost exclusively by his public statements. You indicated that the difference, for example, between Mr. Goodlatte using “evil” and at another time merely “despicable” when describing what atrocities require military intervention was unimportant, but please know that for the thousands and thousands of us who do not and cannot know the Congressman personally, such differences are defining. He is his words. I imagine the drafting of specific language for any given policy might seem relatively insignificant to you, but please understand that for the rest of us, the concern isn’t academic. The Congressman’s rhetoric is his character. When a press release or newsletter column includes an inaccurate or adversarially partisan or distortingly simplistic statement, Mr. Goodlatte himself seems untruthful or unfair or simple-minded.

I was pleased that you could so easily list several recent examples of bipartisan bills that the Congressman has supported. I would like to think I’m paying close attention to Mr. Goodlatte, so I’m embarrassed to admit that most of them went past me unnoticed. That suggests that I may be viewing the Congressman from my own distortingly partisan perspective–in which case, I need to do better. But please also note that all of the bills you mentioned are comparatively minor. When the House is voting on such massive legislative issues as health care, tax reform, annual budgets, and executive investigations, small acts of bipartisanship are likely to slip by unnoticed. So let me reiterate one of my requests: please, in the Congressman’s next newsletter column, brag about these accomplishments and how the Congressman is actively reaching across the aisle and looking to bridge our far too-divided country. Such a change in tone, while a tiny gesture, is a first step toward reversing DC’s decades-deep trend of demonizing opponents. Since Mr. Goodlatte holds one of the safest seats in Congress, he could and should be leading this change.

While I am willing to accept that the impression is inaccurate, the Congressman’s statements too often create the impression of a party loyalist incapable of addressing concerns that do not benefit the GOP. You indicated to me that you believe that impression is false. I ask then that you find ways to communicate a more accurate impression. You said that at least Mr. Goodlatte is no Steve King–and there we certainly agree. If Mr. King were my Representative, I would have given up writing thoughtful letters to him months ago.

As far as the impression I am creating, you suggested that I stop writing daily emails because it makes me seem “crazy” and so not someone the Congressman would have any reason to engage with in meaningful conversation. As I said yesterday, I was surprised that anyone in Mr. Goodlatte’s office is even aware of me, let alone of my blog which you also mentioned. I assumed my letters were vanishing into an anonymous heap. I think you said his office received 25,000 this month–so my 30 seem hardly noteworthy. But I do ask that you appreciate the sincerity of my writing. You described three-sentence rants rattled off by angry constituents after glimpsing something on TV. I attempt to craft logical, well-informed challenges to the Congressman’s positions. If, as you said, I repeat topics–yes, investigations into the Trump administration do keep coming up–it’s always in response to an additional piece of information or delving into a more specific subtopic.

I would be delighted to write the Congressman a compliment someday. I would like to be able to thank him for adjusting one of his positions or acknowledging a more nuanced understanding of an issue or condemning a fellow GOP member who a reasonable person would see has made an unreasonable statement. I was delighted to hear that your wife is a Democrat. It might be silly, but it gives me unexpected hope. It erases the impression that Mr. Goodlatte is surrounding himself with people who have no lines of communication with and understanding of non-Republicans. It suggests that more sincere conversations are possible.

Finally, I want to thank you again for your offer to help with my daughter’s visa. It was quite an experience stepping inside the Russian embassy yesterday morning, and for a moment it looked like her summer position in a Siberia language camp was going to fall through. But happily the visa request is proceeding, and she should have it in time for her flight in June.

I’ve already gone on longer than I ‘d expected, so forgive me if I write again tomorrow to follow-up on the possibility of a town hall in Lexington that we discussed too.

Many thanks,

Chris Gavaler

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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