I recently read a social media post by an outraged citizen (who I do not know) decrying his local government. It seems that their crime was having the nerve to consider re-opening a matter for a second round of voting that had mustered up a 54% to 46% split it’s first time around.
Clearly, this gentleman was among the 54%, as he lambasted his representatives for their audacity in even discussing the idea further (as if a difference of 4 out of 100 people is a healthy majority to begin with….but that is a matter for another day).
Now, I happened to know absolutely nothing about the matter being voted on and therefore had no opinion on its outcome. Which is irrelevant to the case because the flaws with this gentleman’s thinking have absolutely nothing to do with which side one happened to line up on in the debate. The point is that he did not understand principled representative government, and in that, he is not alone. The vast majority of our country, including its leaders, do not understand it. And if they did most of them would hate it.
Here’s the thing: a representative is not merely a mouthpiece of the people. If he were, there would be no need for representatives at all. Think about it. In a pure brute democracy (which we are about to discover is a terrible thing), all you really need is some fast n’ ready slick n’ easy electronic votation device to tally up the votes lickety-split and let some faceless clerk in some excessively-named office know what the will of the people is (or at least 50.0001% of the ones that voted). If representatives are merely puppets of the people, there is no need for them. They are nothing more than exceedingly expensive yes-men.
At least one reason representatives exist is the assumption that they will occasionally tell the people “no.” Representatives are guardrails against mob rule.
Now, in order to do their jobs well they will first need to know more about the political and cultural topics of the day than the average Joe that they represent. They will need to be experts in many fields. And because average Joe has a real job and does not have the time to become an expert in many fields, representatives are paid to do just that.
In addition to knowing more and knowing better, they will also need the backbone to take principled stands against the will of their constituents when necessary for the good of those very constituents. It’s very like parenting. And as you know parents are quite often not the most popular folks around the house.
After a mere two qualifications you can probably see why good representatives are nearly extinct. In America, you simply can’t be a good representative and stay in office. People do not like to be told no. Do it once or twice and you’re sure to lose reelection. And since reelection is the primary goal of nearly all politicians, they simply do not operate in a world of “no’s”.
In order for this to change, citizens of good will and conservative values need to better understand good representative government and do their best to elect leaders who understand it even better than we do. We ought to be the first to applaud a representative who takes a principled stand, especially if it is an unpopular one, and maybe even if it contradicts what we wanted him to do.
A virtuous republic cannot exist without virtuous people. And while there are precious few of these left, the ones remaining would do far more for their communities and country if we encouraged good representatives rather than punishing them.