Comment by Mr. Pink Eyes in Larry’s post “Obama – Time to make a decision”:
“I also would like to know who he thinks he is. He is supposed to act on the will of the people, not enact laws against the will of the people just because he feels it is right. He needs to remember that he works for us, we pay his salary.”
Generally I think we all agree with the intent of that statement but it has given me pause and I thought I would play a little devils advocate here. The basic question I’m wrestling with is whether we elect our government representatives to vote our views or their views? That is, is an election a determination that the winner best represents the majority view of the public even if we disagree with him on certain positions, or have we elected a person who is expected to represent the majority view of his constituents regardless of his personal position on the issue? If, for example, a candidate presents himself in support of a ban on assault weapons in a district overwhelmingly opposed to such a ban, is the candidate, upon election, expected to vote in support of or in opposition to the ban? For me that question is a no-brainer – he was elected despite his view on the assault weapons ban and he should vote in favor of the ban as he campaigned. Does anybody disagree with that?
Assuming the majority of you agree with me on voting for a well-articulated position then we move on to the vast majority of voting – those which come up in the course of governing that were not anticipated or expressed in the campaign. Let’s take health care. Both Obama and McCain were big supporters of health care reform during the campaign though they approached it in different ways. In general, the American people support health care reform even if they oppose the specific legislation now before Congress. At the time of the election a huge majority of the public supported health care reform. A Dem congresswoman who campaigned in strong support of health care reform but now finds her constituents opposed to the President’s proposal finds herself in a bit of a pickle. She agrees with the President and wants to see health care reform pass but she has a constituency which, according to the latest poll, is opposed to the plan by 60-40 percent. Her experience suggests that when she holds small meetings and is able to articulate her position and explain the bill many people find themselves in agreement because they didn’t understand the specifics of the plan. So how should she vote? Let’s assume for the moment that she is retiring so there is no concern about reelection. What is her responsibility? I think her job is to vote as she thinks right. If she votes only the way the polls tell her to vote then she is nothing but a puppet. There are very few issues that are pre-polled and, if she has a strong opinion, then she needs to vote her view. If she is not strongly impressed by either side then she should vote her expectation of the view of her constituents. I think that is what she is paid for. Unfortunately, what we see much too often, on both sides of the aisle, is that she votes the view of her party leaders — and THAT has got to STOP. I’m sure many of you will disagree with my conclusion and I’m very interested to hear your rebuttals.
Let’s return to Mr Pink Eyes’ comment about Obama: “He is supposed to act on the will of the people, not enact laws against the will of the people just because he feels it is right.” The American people are a fickle lot. We are quick to change our focus and change our minds. The House “feels” that change more rapidly than the Senate and is quicker to express the changing will of the people. The day before the underwear bomber incident national security was well down on the list of America’s priorities (an enormous and continuing mistake, in my opinion). The day after it shot up, Congress was screaming over the incompetents at Homeland Security, and the GOP wanted Janet Napolitano’s head on a platter. Today, not so much noise about that. The Senate is a more deliberative body and less likely to get caught up in the swirl of public reaction. Is that elitist or is that the proper role of the Senate? When the House is screaming “we need to act now” in response to similar screams from the people, and the Senate says “remain calm – we are taking all precautions but we must think before we act” is the Senate ignoring the will of the people or acting responsibly to avoid panic? Again, I see this as a no-brainer – we don’t want a paternal, elitist response saying “be quiet, we know what is best” but we do want cooler heads to prevail because the people doing all the screaming are very often a bunch of hotheads who simply need to be ignored. I may have just carved out a very fine line but it’s one our representatives in Washington are paid to manage.
OK, so that leads me to the role of the president and whether, in fact, his job is to act according to the will of the people or to act in a fashion he thinks represents the best interests of the country regardless of popular opinion. I confess I am currently undecided on this issue. I find it much easier to take a stance on the role of Congress because they generally represent a more homogeneous set of interests within a congressional district or a state. Congressmen in particular come up for election every two years (too often in my opinion – it’s a constant campaign) so they are regularly subject to electoral review. It’s much more difficult when you have the entire country as your constituency and your election victory was anything but a landslide. George W. Bush failed to win the popular vote but governed as if he had a broad electoral mandate. Is that the way a president needs to govern? “I won and now here’s what I’m going to do.” Is that why we elected him or did we elect him to follow the shifting sands of our priorities? Is health care really the nation’s top concern or has that case been made through political prioritization? Jobs and the economy should be number one and it is for many people; but would you know it by reading the paper or listening to the news? Obama himself seems to be focused on those critical issues right now while the media stays focused on health care and Tiger Woods.
As I said at the start, I’m writing this more from a devils advocate position than out of a firm conviction in my argument. I hope others of you will chime in with your thoughts.