Skip to comments.What Obligations Does of an Elected Offical Have to His Constituents?
Posted on 12/07/2004 6:53:20 PM PST by Voice in your head
When we elect a man to elected office, to represent us, he must weigh his duty to represent his constituents with doing what he perceives as what is right.
What about when these two issues conflict?
What if the people support passage of a bill, but he believes that it is detrimental to the area that he represents or to a larger area? What is his obligation to do what is right, or to do what his constituents desire?
He is a politician, he will do whatever is necessary to get re-elected. And thats all that needs to be said.
We are not a pure Democracy, not even an impure one, we are a representative republic, whose leaders are chosen democratically.
I don't know the answer, but short terms in office and competitive districts are a way of minimizing the conflict: let the official vote his conscience, so long as the voters can weigh their reprentative's good and bad points after a brief period and choose whether to retain him. If you have to wait six years before you can get rid of the person you elected, he'd better be more faithful to your wishes. Long terms tend to prevent Senators from bearing the full responsibility of their actions (but Congressmen are in such gerrymandered districts that they can get away with a lot, too).
The best officials will do what they think is right. And the best voters will decide whether to re-elect him or her based on whether they agree.
It's not only the elected officials who are responsible - the voters are too.
note the error of Pilate.
Or they can just do nothing -- that seems to happen a lot.
An honest politician - and it isn't a contradiction in terms, necessarily - will vote for what his conscience tells him is right and pay willingly with his job if the electorate disagrees. That is why we elect men and women, and not poll-taking machines. And that is the difference between a democracy and a representative republic.
If the governor has the lawful power to grant pardons, then is it not assumed that he is expected to exercise that power, as he sees fit, much in the same way that we expect our representatives to exercise their powers, as they see fit?
The dilemma is inherent in the concept of representative government. Edmund Burke's exposition (as follows) endures as perhaps the most eloquent statement of the matter, but the Federalist Papers and Madison's Notes show that the framers of the Constitution recognized the problem as well.
After years of dealing with issues, political candidates, and officeholders, on some things I trust the public, but on others I trust officeholders of my preference. The public is best and most competent at resolving large issues about values and the balance of power between government and the people, while politicians are best at working out the details and running the government. But neither the people nor officeholders should be fully trusted.
Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol
3 Nov. 1774Works 1:446--48
I am sorry I cannot conclude without saying a word on a topic touched upon by my worthy colleague. I wish that topic had been passed by at a time when I have so little leisure to discuss it. But since he has thought proper to throw it out, I owe you a clear explanation of my poor sentiments on that subject.
He tells you that "the topic of instructions has occasioned much altercation and uneasiness in this city;" and he expresses himself (if I understand him rightly) in favour of the coercive authority of such instructions.
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?
To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,--these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.
Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life: a flatterer you do not wish for.
"Edmund Burke argued that the only thing a representative owed his constituents was his own best judgment."
To which I would ad, he owes a clear honest representation of his position on salient issues of the day, eg, a governor on capital punishment. If he supports it, he owes it to his state to say so. Then he owes it to them to govern accordingly, if elected.
On the mark as to Burke, with a nice detail about Profiles being "attributed" to JFK. If I recall correctly, Ted Sorenson actually wrote Profiles and Nation of Immigrants, while Arthur Krock wrote While England Slept.
Incumbents don't lose unless the old media says they did something really really bad, or they get redistricted, or they cross Karl Rove.
The real goal is not just to get reelected, but to get rich.
The only ethical question most Congressmen have to ask themselves is how specific should he get when telling a "supporter" where the new interstate highway will run.
The question is about obligations, not personal goals.
If this so called "911 Intelligence" Bill passes without addressing the immigration issue I will wonder that myself.
note the error of Pilate.
Was it an error??
Where would the Christian faiths be if he released Jesus?
I have no idea. But the ruminations of the faithful never cease to amaze me. "Who is blind like My people?"
But if a candidate wins, is it up to him to act according to the dictates of his conscience, rather than the desires of the electorate? Politicians can always fudge or reconcile these things. They're generally elected on issues like the economy and competent management of the government, but if they get in, they freely interpret their election as a mandate to act as they see fit on other issues. Is that legitimate?
I don't know what the answer is. One anti-death penalty governor didn't commute every sentence, because he assumed he didn't have the authority, and he made a good case for his view in print (unfortunately for him the public resented the cases where he did commute sentences and defeated him at the polls -- I think it was DiSalle of Ohio in the 1960s). The counterargument is that if the criminals are still behind bars no harm has been done, but I don't know if that's valid. If the death penalty has a deterrent effect and voters want capital punishment for that reason, isn't the governor violating their trust?
Perhaps an anti-death penalty governor could make a good case for following his conscience, but plenty of politicians have claimed to be voting the demands of their conscience when outsiders saw little more than politics and ambition behind his actions. State reps who make the decisive votes against the death penalty are often rewarded for changing their minds, and there's been much uproar in Illinois about the previous Governor's use of the pardoning power, and what may have been behind it.
The idea that a representative must act upon the will of the people is absurd. That he ought be immune to it is equally ridiculous.
On the one, it is impossible to say what that public mood may be at any given time. To chase it is to chase a butterfly: if you actually catch it you'll kill it. Most importantly, any given mood may or may not accord to existing statutory and, more importantly, fundamental law.
Burke's beautiful exposition aside, it seems to me that both as a practical matter and one of principle the representative owes the voter nothing except, as Dustin Hawkins says, that which the voters wield over him: the next election. Forgive me, DH, if I misread cynicism into your post -- that's the way I read it -- but I don't see this as twisted or in any way wrong. It is the proper mechanism for reward or punishment of the representative's conscience or vote-baiting, whichever he may choose.
In this sense, and as we saw in the final days of x42, the lame-duck presents a problem to representative democracy in that the voters have no leverage over the lame duck, at least so far as the lame duck cares or dares to piss 'em off. It goes both ways, for, as in 2000, the voters may wish to punish bad behavior, or, as in '96, they may wish to reward the outgoing President by voting in his chosen legacy. On the whole, I think the two-term limit is beneficial in the presidency, and it is certainly consistent with the ideal that the presidency is an office and not a man. Elsewhere, I'm not for term limits, precisely because they cut that representational thread.
The problem with the lame duck is precisely that he no longer represents any interest but his own. X, you may know that I loathe the "stewardship" theory, which is pretty much what Burke is arguing for in the passage presented here. Popular government must be the public will moderated by fundamental law, and among those important divisions of power built into our fundamental law are the simultaneous empowerment and balance of interests and that division by time, the public will as periodically expressed in the 2, 4, and 6-year renewal of the various national elected offices.
My first sense is to bow before a magnificent post. Very well put, and a truly excellent summary of what is self-government.
The next impulse is to think of my lobbyist friend who would stand before the House door, awaiting this or that congressman hustling in to make a vote, and offering the harried representative, "Are you with us, Mr. Congressman, or should I put you down for 35,000 letters?"
I didn't mean to portray the public will as something delicate or beautiful; rather, I meant to describe it as impossible to capture in flight. It is, as you say, brutal and robust, but it is also ephemeral. Whatever that moment that a representative gives to the pressure is that very same moment he decides what the next election will mean. That's a matter of choice, and cannot be an accurate perception of the public will except as the next election affirms or denies it.
Nevertheless, as they say, the crying mouth gets the worm. That is, I think we agree on this point.
There is so much in your post to ponder, so I will beg off for the night to think it over. I'm not convinced that there is any overarching mission that our representatives ought or do strive to meet other than that given them by the voters and by fundamental law.
Thanks, and please elaborate where you see fit.