Friday, September 04, 2009

Stupid Question, Teachable Moment

This is an exchange between Sen. Al Franken and a woman who runs on Fox News platitudes (as you can tell from the Tea Party tee, and from her rhetoric).

The woman asked: "Are you gonna vote the way people want, the people who elected you, are you gonna vote their voice? Or are you gonna vote the way Obama wants you to vote?"

The woman's question is irritatingly stupid, the manifestation of a mindset that can only arise when civics education is removed from schools.

First, "the people" do not exist. It is a convenient phrase used to support one's views when one thinks he or she is in the majority. Second, how does a senator what "the people want"? The opinions he or she hears are but a sliver of what "the people" think on an issue; most people do not bother writing or talking to their representative, so should a politician base his vote on the views expressed by a vocal minority? Would that be representative of what the people want? Or should Sen. Franken base his vote on polls? Which ones, the ones in favor of a position, or the ones against it? (You can find plenty of both).

I am proud of having supported Sen. Franken's successful election bid, a pride reinforced by his excellent answer: "I am gonna vote the way I wanna vote [...] I use my independent judgment, and I don't always go by polls." Exactly.

What is it that the American people do not understand about the concept of representative democracy? You elect an individual to represent you. Not you personally, but the best interests of the community you live in, as judged by--wait for it--the representative! Sometimes the best interest of the community will coincide with your own, sometimes it will not. And guess what? Sometimes you happen to be represented by the candidate you did not vote for. Yeah, well, shit happens! So the best you can hope for is that the representative will vote his conscience instead of voting for the particular interest of the people that elected him or her, which will often be the opposite of your own.

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