I frequent Crooks and Liars nearly every day, sometimes to my benefit, but more often than not to my great detriment. Apparently, Crooks and Liars is the second most clicked-on Liberal website on the net, so I guess that means I’m getting the “mainstream” liberal sentiment there.
There are some smart people on Crooks and Liars. Many of them are very well educated, and I’m guessing that a lot of them likely have graduate degrees. For all that education and wealth of knowledge, most of them lack two important things: consistency and philosophical basics. That’s a fairly tall charge on my part, one man calling into question the intelligence of all of them, but I’ll use only one specific example to prove my point. From the title I’m sure you’ve already guessed that I’m going to discuss the notion of representation in American government.
Many of the folks at Crooks and Liars are unhappy with their congressional representative. They like to throw around the “R” word a lot (recall), and they get mad when the rep doesn’t vote their way. Although I think the idea of a recall is completely ridiculous, I can understand their frustration in feeling like they’re not being heard or represented in congress.
Here’s where the blatant contradiction comes in: they claim that their representatives are not supposed to “vote their conscience,” but they’re supposed to represent the will of the people. I actually agree with that notion, as that is what the Founders thought about representation in congress. Unlike the British parliamentary system of the Eighteenth Century, American representatives were supposed to be bound to the wishes and interests of their constituents. “Voting your conscience,” or representing national interest, as was the representation style of the British Parliament, was never supposed to enter in the equation.*
That was radically different from what the Britons had been used to, but the colonists had been doing it that way for quite some time before the Revolution. It was a no-brainer for them: your representative is supposed to vote the way you want him to, after all that’s why you voted for him. The Democrats seem to hold that notion to be true.
So why is it that they complain when their representatives vote in accordance with the interests of their constituents? It may come as a shock to some Liberals, but not all Americans are “intelligent progressives,” as someone once tried to convince me. If most Americans were progressives then we wouldn’t have a Republican dominated House of Representatives. If you are a Democrat and a Republican won in your district, then you have no logical ground to stand on when he votes according to the interests of the Republicans that put him in office.
Now, we can say that representatives are not supposed to only represent the people that voted for them. They’re supposed to do their best to mirror the total interests of their district. But in these hyper-partisan times, what options are they given? The only choice of representation is to represent the people who voted for you or those who are completely ideologically opposed to you and your supporters. What are they going to choose? They’ll probably opt to represent the interests of the people that voted them in office.
Just because they’re not voting for your interest, or your wishes, that doesn’t mean they’re spitting on the wishes of all their constituents and voting however they please. Sometimes they vote on their conscience, and from what I’ve read from a lot of Liberal pundits is that they wish they would vote their conscience. Someone on C&L actually said once that “I don’t vote for them to vote on their conscience,” but that same person is happy when that conscience-vote happens to be in favor of his own liberal agenda.
Can Democrats really be mad at Republicans for how they vote? If their constituents want them to vote a certain way then they have to according to the logic of American-style representation. In reality, though, the cries for better representation are just veiled screams for uniformity of thought and the progress of their personal agendas. They are okay to be ideologically inconsistent in their thoughts on representation because they don’t actually believe in the principles they espouse anyway.
Apparently, conscience-voting is okay as long as the representative is voting on your conscience. Go figure.
*The information on colonial thoughts on the nature of representation in the Eighteenth Century comes from Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.