To: x; Billthedrill; Dustin Hawkins; Rockingham; Voice in your head
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The problem with the lame duck is precisely that he no longer represents any interest but his own.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.
posted on 12/08/2004 8:04:24 PM PST
There is something to be said for engaging a problem in the terms understood by those who must confront it in a practical sense, meaning actual, real world elected public officials. Almost all of them have a sense of the competing and sometimes antagonistic considerations of personal interest, public duty, public opinion, the views of their supporters, and a sense of what is right and best.
Once you have over about 25,000 constituents, someone is always ready and aching to give you a piece of their mind. Contrary to your elegant metaphor, public opinion is not a delicate creature dancing in the breeze but is a robust and often brute and snarling beast. Or, as Mencken put it, democracy is a form of government based on the principle that the people know what they want and deserve to get it, good and hard.
For elected officials like the state and federal legislators I am familiar with, the public and public opinion are not abstractions but an insistent torrent of telephone calls, letters, editorials, direct comments, polls, focus groups, and lobbying. What the public thinks is ever an influence, real or potential, on elected officials, even if what best serves the public is not always their guide star. More than once I have seen instances in which a single well-put comment from the public at the right moment tilted the balance and decided an issue.
Apart from the corrupt and stupid and instances of personal dereliction or when public opinion or lobbying pressures must be accommodated, most public officials are remarkably consistent in their views and actions. The jobbery and manipulations of lame duck sessions are but a small part of the process. In some states, like Florida, there are no lame duck sessions because legislators begin their term immediately upon election.
As you point out, the American political process has numerous remedies and safeguards against bad laws and policies. Not the least of them is the sense by public officials that they are indeed stewards of the public interest. We ought not to diminish that benign influence by fostering a sense of political realism so corrosive and crude that it deceives us and subverts our institutions.
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