We hear it from all quarters: “The American people. . .” We want and don’t want tax raises, we do and don’t want universal health care, we do and don’t believe in global warming at the hands of ourselves, we do and don’t believe in creationism, evolution, this or that war, this or that light bulb.
It’s enough to make you wretch.
The fact is, it’s pretty unclear whether anybody speaks for me at all, most of the time. I seem to be yelling out my instructions and positions to a mostly deaf government.
We have individuals who believe they have a mandate to do X simply because, often by only a few thousand votes, a minority or bare majority has voted them into office. They seem to believe that everyone voted for the exact same reasons. They shrug off concerns for minority opinions (which our Constitution was developed exactly to protect!), and pontificate about what they are going to do, giving it that stamp of imprimatur every few sentences, “The People of the US want us to . . .”
Which of course begs the question. What do we have a right to expect? Should our representatives run on a platform and then if elected, even if only by a plurality, set about putting it in motion? Or should they be forced to “compromise” to include their minority position. At what point does an individual “win” be so overwhelming that the minority can be ignored? Are there moral considerations that make this wrong on some issues no matter how small that be?
Of greater question is just what type of representation are we expecting? Was that different at the countries political inception than now? Should it change? Why? For both Houses or just one?
Philosophically, there have been two general ways of representing one’s constituents. In the first, the elected official, by way of town halls, questionnaires, office hours, and such makes every attempt to discern the general desires of the majority of his district or state. He or she then acts according to those perceptions. Kind of like a referendum on every issue approach.
This probably worked pretty darn good in the 1800’s when we weren’t so darned diversified by occupation, religion, ethnic background and all that. Today? Is it truly possible to know? Are you not simply gauging the “very very interested” who participate in polling, questionnaires and town halls and e-mails?
Is there anything special about the representative? Does she have some greater knowledge on issues, or at least certain of them, that make it unwise to trust in the mob?
This brings us to the second method. This theory claims that implicit in the election is the acknowledgment that the official is in fact specially informed, and thus is in a rare place to make the “best” decision for the “most” people. And certainly only she has the special knowledge reserved for “high clearance” information and certainly the relative merits of tradeoffs with other representatives. Shouldn’t this count?
This also worked pretty darn well in the 1800’s where your Senator might well be the rancher on the spread next to yours and a person you might reasonably share similar interests with.
So it all comes down to what do we expect? Do we know? When is the last time you had THIS discussion with yourself or anyone else? Does it matter what the answer is? If is doesn’t then heck, I’ve just wasted your time. If it does, then we are wasting our time arguing until we determine just how many believe what.
We haven’t even got to the question of K Street and it’s influence. We pretty much all agree it shouldn’t exist. I think we do at least. If our politicians are owned already by another entity, than what kind of representation we believe in is pretty much a dead issue, until we have plucked off the parasite clinging to our elected official.
I have no answers. I seldom do. Do you have an opinion? Let it fly.
- A Congress of Wimps (fellowshipofminds.wordpress.com)
- Representatives not eager to hold August town halls (dailykos.com)