There’s a pretty good chance I’ve written about this topic before, but it’s on my mind and hopefully the passage of time will bring about some added clarity. If not, hey, whatever. Simply put, there is a fundamental question at the center of democracy, and that’s whether our elected officials are people we entrust to act in our best interests, or if they’re simply conduits for public opinion.
One school of thought is that the electoral process is to help us determine which candidate is the brightest or best qualified, so that when they get into office we can let them do their job and trust that decisions they make are what’s good for all of us. The other is that they’re basically a middleman put into office to translate the will of the people into law. That no one seems to have a firm grip on which is the case is the cause of a whole load of problems.
Although on here I mention polls a lot, my purpose for doing so is rarely “this is what the people want, therefore.” Usually it’s in relation to an issue that looks like Washington is swaying to one side on the erroneous belief that it’s what the American people want (gay marriage, taxes on the rich). When it seems that Democrats are shying away from doing this or that because they fear political backlash, I’ll throw up some polls with the intent of saying “no, you’re actually doing the opposite of what you’re trying to do.”
For the most part, though, just because the people are behind it doesn’t mean it’s right, especially since “the people” are easily swayed, attracted by bright colors, and get their information from a media that probably cares more about ratings and corporate sponsorship than objectivity. A poll that asks what people think about intervening in Libya or whether or not we should pull out of Iraq in 6 months versus 18 is just irrelevant. The country could be in 100% agreement on something, but unless that’s what the experts think, it’s meaningless.
I suppose it’s borne of the same thought process that says Harvard-educated Obama is an egghead out of touch with mainstream America and people voted for Bush because he looked like a good beer buddy (although only one of them actually drinks). Hell, maybe it’s a result of TV shows and movies convincing everyone that, deep down, we could totally solve the world’s problems with elbow grease and feet-on-the-ground common sense that all those nerds with MBA’s and PhD’s just don’t have.
The point is that any time it seems as though Washington goes counter to what some pundit thinks, he goes on a tirade about not listening to the American people. That’s if the polls support him, of course. Otherwise, it’s that he’s letting his decisions be dictated by the whims of the public. You may remember that one reason John Kerry was blasted in 2004 was that he was accused of “waffling” and flip-flopping his stances based on polls. That was actually a big line of attack against Democrats for a while, by the same people who complain that Obama and the Democrats are ignoring the will of the people.
What I’m getting at is that this is a pretty fundamental rift in the nature of democracy, and while media figures will (obviously) exploit either side depending on which suits their needs best, voting patterns will definitely change depending on which kind of politician the voter wants. Someone who’s looking for an “everyman” to transparently represent his constituents will vote for a different candidate who’s looking for an expert in whom to place his trust.
I would argue that the latter is the more responsible choice for the same reason that I said during each election I’ve written during: running a country requires intelligence and ability just like any other difficult job, and just as I wouldn’t pick a dentist or a tax consultant based on how fun they are to drink with, nor would I pick a government official. We need people who we know are capable of making responsible, nuanced decisions based on long and careful consideration, not just to reflect the ill-informed snap judgement of people who made a “decision” because someone on TV shouted it at them after a 15 second propagandized “summary” of the issue.
At the end of the day, I defer to an idea first put in The Daily Beast. Give our officials as much distance from us between elections as possible. That would relegate people like me to obsolescence, but frankly that’s much better than watching policymaking transform into a circus that can’t get a fucking thing done.