What follows applies to citizens, parliaments and prime ministers, Congress or presidents, Nevada’s Legislature and governors, as well as Carson City’s Board of Supervisors.
“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user,” said Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States.
In Nevada, where many rightfully venerate the U. S. Constitution’s 2nd amendment, it’s tough to make the point more clearly than that. But harken to an earlier time when the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, in a speech to electors in Bristol, England, used sometimes effusive, verbose terms regarding the vote and the realities of representative government.
“Certainly it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents,” Burke, a parliamentary paragon of the spoken and written word, told his audience after his opponent had extolled the “coercive authority” of electors’ instructions. Burke said representatives should heed constituents, up to a point.
“Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention,” he said. “It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.”
In the speech Burke eventually did get to plain speaking, from this perspective, saying what’s the unchangeable underpinning of a civil society in which elected officials must assess competing views and interests.
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion,” said Burke.
In a representative democratic Republic, to return to the United States, persons chosen to leadership offices must consider all opinions, weigh them and make many decisions.
“All opinions” include his or her own. Based on data gathered, the representative must regard his or her own informed opinion at the least as having equal merit, if not more, to the din of constituents clamoring for attention.
This lunacy of boosting candidacies or deciding issues by polls, scientific or otherwise, means virtual votes seem binding. It’s crazy. Enslaving officeholders to voters, meanwhile, makes public servants into public serfs.
Decisions aren’t just black or white, red or blue; they usually deal with shades of gray or pink. They always require refined judgment, in life or in office.
Blarney about a Congress, legislature or city governing board being beholden to the loudest, longest-standing or largest lobby (paid, loosely organized or just in some griper’s mind), misses the point. Aspiring leaders seek votes to take on the task of leading, not following like sheep the mandates of one vocal group or another. If you don’t like where officials lead you, turn ‘em out. You hire them and can fire them. But you don’t own them.
The United States came into being due to self-interest of a relatively small band of freedom seeking leaders who, by the way, had the vocal support of Edmund Burke. As you might imagine, that wasn’t particularly popular in England.
Now let me leave you with a thought from a modern day Burke, or at least someone twice as cutting and just as smart. In the words of the TV wit, currently on hiatus, named Jon Stewart:
“To those people who are upset about their hard-earned tax dollars going to things they don’t like: welcome to the $%&*)#! club. Reimburse me for the Iraq war and oil subsidies, and the diaphragms are on me.”
John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.