These past few days have given me time to think. I’ve realized that the changes we really want are always hung up in the legislature. Why not hold a referendum on tax hikes for the rich? Is it because everyone already knows there are too few wealthy voters to defeat such a referendum?
“Sometimes,” I can hear the legislators and lobbyists intoning, “the public must be protected from its own impulsiveness. Such issues should be frozen by our endless deliberations for the good of the country.”
What, I’ve always wondered, is the difference between electing a representative and holding a public referendum? In a sensible world (I know, don’t get me started..) we would have all the issues that have lingered too long in the Legislature be automatically put to a public vote—let the people decide the issue and get on with other business. But that doesn’t happen.
My guess is that putting an issue into a referendum is something determined by the same people that block these laws in the House and Senate. Decriminalizing drugs, gay rights, women’s reproductive rights, etc. are measures that seem easily doable. Yet there are other questions that might not suit me: ‘Should we bomb Iran?”; “Should we send troops to Syria?”; “Should we close our borders to immigrants from the Middle East?” –those sorts of questions would make me very nervous.
So, perhaps it is useful to have a deliberative legislature that doesn’t pass any laws until a great many voices have been heard—even, perhaps, until public perception has matured or morphed into a more enlightened point of view. The ache I feel over tragically (to me) unjust policies that see no movement, year after year, is stronger than my easy patience with legislators who introduce (to me) unjust and ignorant bills, knowing it probably won’t go anywhere.
Both sides of the question have their pros and cons. Like the Electoral College of recent interest, the Constitution put a great deal of power in democratically elected office-holders. Regardless of what these candidates said during a campaign, their job, once elected, was to actually put themselves at a distance from the throng, considering not only what the people wanted, but the consequences of implementing those desires—to the poor, to the rich, to the merchants and the consumers, and so forth—and what effects over time, good or bad, might be foreseen.
Once we cast our votes, our officials have no requirement to ask our opinion of his or her decisions—we select a representative and our relationship is over until next election. I will pause here to point out that this isn’t absolutely true—there are impeachments, votes of no-confidence, and such. Also, our officials are not forced to react to our input, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have offices to visit and meetings with community leaders and so on—a good Representative or Senator will not wish to cut themselves off from their constituency (and there is the eternal issue of ‘next term’.)
So we voters do not exactly get to vote for what we want—we get to vote for a person we hope will act in our stead. Whether we approve of the performance of our elected officials or not is a moot point. We can vote for someone else in a few years—that is the only control we actually have.
And as for the candidates we get to choose from, well, we don’t get a resume of every adult in our state and then choose the one we like best. We have party machinery that does a vetting process. We are ‘given’ our candidates by the party organizations that pre-digest our electoral food-candidates. The Primary Race contests in such cases are presented as ‘voted on’ by party supporters—but the entire menu of candidate-choices has been pre-filtered by a small group of people who invest each political party’s infrastructure.
As voters, our control over our destiny is, in fact, severely limited. Still, we brag about our tightly held self-determination—assuming that we have final say over anything and everything important.
But don’t be alarmed by this bit of paradox—the true lack-of-control we have over our legislative process is balanced by our, let’s face it, utter sloth in areas such as ‘knowing the issues’, ‘seeing both sides’, ‘reading the bills’, and even ‘voting’. So forget what I said about referenda—I suppose representatives are the lesser evil. And as for electing more intelligent candidates—well, I didn’t run for any office—did you? A person would have to be crazy… ah, slowly breaks the dawn! I leave you with the question made popular by the comic, Dom Irrera, “I don’t. Do you?”