Thomas Sowell

Considering how closely divided both Houses of Congress are, and the fact that this is an election year, Democrats and Republicans alike are ready to give away vast amounts of the taxpayers' money -- current and future -- to buy votes in crucial states that can determine who controls Capitol Hill next year and who controls the White House after the 2004 election.

Yet both parties seem to be overlooking an issue that millions of voters can readily understand and respond to. That is the pestering of telemarketers repeatedly phoning us and interrupting whatever we are doing. It doesn't matter whether we are sick, sleeping, eating dinner, making love, or whatever. Those who have fax machines also find their paper being used up printing advertisements from people they never heard of, selling things they don't want.

It doesn't matter if you have an unlisted number. Telemarketers can buy your phone number from other businesses that you give it to. They also have machines which can simply dial all possible phone numbers, which will include the unlisted ones.

Some states allow you to put your phone number on a list of numbers that telemarketers are forbidden to call. That is fine for people in those states. Some private trade organizations also provide an 800 number that you can phone to have your number put on a list that members of that particular trade association are told not to phone. But there are so many trade associations that you cannot possibly contact all of them to get your name removed from their lists.

A more fundamental question is: Why should you have to fight off people who want to intrude into the privacy of your home? Why shouldn't they be restricted to phoning people who indicate that they don't mind being phoned?

There are probably enough people who are sufficiently fed up with being harassed by telemarketers that there should be some serious votes out there for whichever political party decides to make this an issue and pass national legislation to stop those who pester us with unwanted phone calls.

Is this a better issue for the Democrats or the Republicans? Either party should be able to grab this issue and run with it, perhaps picking up enough votes to capture a closely divided Congress. Either party would of course stand to lose campaign contributions from the telemarketers. But the bottom line on Election Day is votes.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate