Thursday, March 04, 2004
A Question Of Theory

This is probably in the realm of Political Science courses, but as I'm not a PolSci specialist, major, or minor (heck, I haven't even taken it as an elective), I must confess to a background of ignorance on this one.

I was thinking this morning, after reading Lee Harris's TCS Column on calling Sean Hannity names, about the question (discussed briefly there) of 'selling out' to politicans and parties. Is Sean Hannity, as one writer has apparently put it, a "pimp for the GOP"? Does it matter?

I don't listen to Hannity on the radio, and I can't see him on FOX News, as it's not allowed to broadcast up here (curse you, CRTC regulation!). As a result, I can't claim familiarity with Mr. Hannity's antics or political statements; and rather than speak from ignorance, I'm going to grab a tangent by the tail, and run with it for all my brain is worth. Leaving aside the question of a private citizen's 'selling out to the man,' what about the question of a politician's 'selling out'?

This question has bugged me for a while now. When I think about it, this issue really boils down to who we are selecting as our representatives, and what exactly it is that we are telling them to do. When we vote for someone, are we voting for that person? Or are we voting for his platform?

I think this is an important distinction, because if we vote for the one, then it's impossible for him or her to 'sell out;' while if we're actually voting for the other, then 'selling out' becomes as commonplace as eating dinner.

Let me explain my thought process here. If a politician shows up at my front door (it's never happened) to get my vote, is he asking me to review his stances, or his character? If he's asking me to look over his positions, and is not of a similar ideological bent, then I'm not to to vote for him at all - but what if he's asking me to look over who he is?

I suppose my question is: are politicians human beings, or are they mouthpieces for our views? If they are human beings, then their ideas on the issues may very well change - heck, this happens all the time. Is it selling out to change one's mind in an argument? It is if the politician is merely voicing the concerns of the community - he's not supposed to have any principles himself, he's just supposed to say what we want him to say, as our representative. But it's not necessarily a violation of confidence if we see politicians as people (difficult, I know) who's mind changes.

So when a man or woman comes to town to drum up my vote, am I supposed to judge his or her character, to see if this is a good person to represent me based on how they think, how they make decisions, and how they debate the issues - or am I supposed to choose based on their ability to mimic my stances?

I really think that it's the former, rather than the latter - we are choosing people based on who they are (a part of which is what they believe), and not primarily on their ability to state whatever I want them to say. He or she will be up in Ottawa, or Washington, or wherever, arguing for or against a great number of positions, including those that directly affect my daily life. If all they are is a mouthpiece, then there is the very real possiblity that they can sell out, and start mouthing someone else's concerns. But if they are human beings (and if we give them the benefit of the doubt in this thought experiment), then aside from being bribed, can they really sell out? We've elected them to office as a thinking individual, and thinking individuals do, on occasion, change their minds.

If my political representative changes his or her mind, and I don't agree with the new position, it is my right to change my vote the in the next election - but what about the current term that is being served? Have I been 'sold up the river'? Or should a politician vote against his or her conscience for the remainder of the election cycle, to remain true to the positions they were elected with?

I don't know. I can't claim to answer this one, but it does bring about a second point - which I think has a lot of bearing on politics in general, and about which I can come to a conclusion. Given that I believe we are electing not mouthpieces, but rational thinkers to office, it becomes extremely important that we know the moral and intellectual character of these people. If we were electing positional players, and not human beings, then their morality wouldn't really concern me, so long as they voice the right things.

This, I think (albeit way too late to do any good) was roughly the divide over Clinton, at least in my mind. Those who defended him claimed that his morality and character didn't matter - so long as he did the right thing politically. Those who were against him (and weren't motivated by an irrational anger) claimed that his morality did matter, because he was representing all of us, and we had to be sure his character would allow him to make correct moral decisions on the world's stage.

Obviously, it's not that simple. But if we're electing people to mimic what we want them to say, then it doesn't matter all that much what their personal opinions and behaviors are like - it just doesn't. If, on the other hand, we are electing human beings, with thoughts, morals, character flaws, and the ability to change their positions, then we should be able to examine the whole of their person, and not just their stump speeches. And we can't exactly get upset when they do change their minds, can we? After all - if we did our job, we'd know who these people are, and we'd know how likely they are to 'flip-flop.' It's our fault, as much as it is theirs, if things go badly - unless, of course, we've been genuinely deceived.

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A webjournal of ideas, comments, and various other miscellany from a Texan university student (with occasional input from his family) living in Toronto, Ontario. Can you say "culture shock?"

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