Monday, March 15, 2010

Saletan Makes a Strange Argument

I love Will Saletan, but this doesn't make any sense to me:

Democracy isn't about doing what might sell in the next election. It's about doing what you promised in the last one. If you're in Congress, and if you think this bill is good for the country, vote for it. Even if it costs you your job.

Losing your job is a scary idea. It's natural to look for a way out. It's also natural to rationalize your self-preservation. You aren't really caving; you're just serving the public by heeding the polls. Isn't that a legislator's job?

No. It isn't. Your job description is in the nation's founding documents. The Constitution specifies representative democracy, not direct democracy. The Declaration of Independence explains that to secure citizens' rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The consent authorizes powers, not bills. And it precedes the exercise of those powers. Your job now is to use your powers wisely.
This is the only time I've ever heard anyone use the phrase "deriving their . . . powers from the consent of the governed" to justify passing legislation that flies in the face of public opinion. By Saletan's logic, "consent" must only be given at the ballot box. Once the voters have chosen a representative, public involvement becomes immaterial. Representatives should be ruled by their individual consciences, not the whims of the people.

But if that's true, why did the the Founders see fit to draw up a Bill of Rights which - among other things - guarantees the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances? And why has the Supreme Court repeatedly interpreted this clause to mean the right to lobby your legislators? Further, why is this right considered among the "fundamental rights" which have been selectively incorporated to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

I think Saletan's argument is a little silly. We have a representative democracy, sure, but that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be a participatory democracy. People should be involved at every stage of the process because the decisions that their government makes affect their daily lives.

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