What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: Keven
Elected leaders in our republican representative system face a quandary when considering how they will vote on an issue. Many of them are unfortunately unaware of (or intentionally ignore) the standard by which their votes are to be cast, and thus proceed in blatant disregard for the proper process of deciding upon an issue. This process entails three influencing factors whose order is important: the Constitution, one’s own conscience, and the constituency being represented by the office held.
Most politicians disregard the first and the last, voting only according to their conscience (or lack thereof). This type of person might, if they’re savvy enough to use the argument, justify their actions by pointing to the representative system itself—the voters placed this person in office because of his/her stance on the issues, and thus that stance can confidently be implemented once the office is obtained.
While true in part, relying only upon this method of input is arrogant, if not flat out wrong. Elected officials who make an oath upon assuming office to support and defend the Constitution owe their allegiance to this document, first and foremost. If one’s “conscience” dictates a desire to implement an individual health care insurance mandate at the federal level, for example, then that (un-constitutional) desire must be subjected to the Constitution before pursuing any related legislation.
If and when one’s desired policy or program passes constitutional muster, then it is proper for a legislator to consider his or her own conscience. After all, it is a representative system, and if that person was voted into office, it is because a majority of the voting constituents liked his/her platform and entrusted him/her with that office. As such, it is unnecessary (if not improper) for a legislator to constantly focus upon or worry about the feelings of his/her constituents in regard to an issue. This is not a democracy, and the constituents are not supposed to be deciding upon each issue. Conducting or paying attention to polls shows a concern more for re-election than for principled action.
That being said, there are times in which a legislator is indifferent or ignorant about an issue, or perhaps has an incorrect stance that can be corrected through feedback from informed and engaged constituents. At times, then, it becomes necessary to seek counsel from key advisors, or better yet, one’s constituency, in order to determine how a certain vote should be cast. Of course, only the more vocal and active constituents will likely make their voices heard when a request is made, opening up an imbalance in the response being observed by the legislator. Whatever the response is, a true representative will seek at all times to represent his/her constituents, and if circumstances drastically change public opinion on an issue, the legislator can either ignore the constituency and vote his/her conscience (or lack thereof), or subject him/herself to removal in the next election cycle. Either way, the constituents will ultimately determine who their representative will be.
The widespread dissatisfaction that the majority of Americans have with their elected officials can be largely attributed to the imbalance of these factors. Their proper prioritization—most importantly, placing the Constitution before one’s own political desires—would solve a large number of problems in Congress and restore a decent amount of respect in the way our representatives conduct their business.