Yep, that’s exactly how a republic is supposed to work

The Caskey boys, spotted together at an event in 2017. No, I don't know exactly how they're related...

The Caskey boys, spotted together at an event in 2017. No, I don’t know exactly how they’re related…

Bryan posted this about his kinsman and my representative, Micah Caskey:

Yep, that’s exactly the way our representative democracy is supposed to work. Elected representatives are not your agents whom you send to do your bidding. They’re people you delegate to go do what, in a complex modern economy, most people don’t have time to do: Go to the capital and study and debate complex issues until they understand them better than they otherwise would — and then act accordingly.

A lot of Americans, maybe most of them, don’t understand that. They expect the following from elected officials:

  1. That they make very specific promises when running for office.
  2. That those promises appeal directly to what they, the voters, want to hear.
  3. That, once elected, the representatives do exactly what they promised, without amendment or deviation.

I don’t expect those things at all. With me, it’s more like:

  1. I don’t care to hear specific campaign promises, because I don’t want that person, once elected, to have his or her hands tied.
  2. To the extent that such promises are made, it’s not necessary that they align with what I think should be done. Sure, if the candidate is promising a lot of stupid stuff I’m dead-set against, I’ll oppose him or her (in part for the simple fact of making pandering promises, whatever their content). But I don’t expect agreement across the board. Since I don’t buy the prepackaged sets of values the left and right sell, there’s never been a candidate with whom I agreed on everything.
  3. Once elected, I expect the representative to buckle down and study, and debate matters with people with different views, and learn, and become wiser about the issues than he or she was during the campaign. And if that means breaking a stupid promise that was made when the candidate was less wise, then I hope my representative has the courage and integrity to do so — like George H.W. Bush ditching the “read my lips” thing.

But as I said, too many people have the first set of expectations, and that misunderstanding has led to many of the ills our country is suffering today. The Tea Party and Trumpism were both outgrowths of the frustration of people who were mad because the people they had elected had not followed through on stupid promises they had made.

The danger in that, of course, is that you can arrive at a point at which people who will actually follow through on stupid promises get elected.

Which is where we are today…

Which is why a fine representative like Micah is good to find. Which in turn is why, once I met him and saw how bright, serious and thoughtful he was, I gave up my crazy thoughts of running for the office myself. I didn’t see how I would do a better job than he would. I don’t remember any of his positions in particular; I just remember that the way he approached issues made me trust him to address them wisely in the future.

And that, boys and girls, is how our system is supposed to work. And yes, this will all be on the final exam…

5 thoughts on “Yep, that’s exactly how a republic is supposed to work

  1. David

    You are, of course, also assuming that the thoughtful, studious representative of your dreams will actually follow a sort of fiduciary rule and place your welfare first–not, say, the welfare of his campaign donors, or the influentials that are most likely to gain her ear, or the think-tankers who “educate” him on complex matters in accordance with the interests of their funders. Political science research on how politicians actually decide for us find these factors far more important than small-r republican fantasies about disinterested elites serving the public good. Jefferson and Hamilton may have believed such–but that’s precisely why their mutual enmity became so murderous; each regarded the other as a traitor to that ideal.
    The problem you identify is a problem, but may not even be the most important problem; after all, a lot of the guys who get elected by pandering proceed to make their big decisions without reference to the panderees at all. Rather, the problem is what sorts of issues people base their votes upon. If what stirs their passions are tribal issues, politicians can pander to their heart’s content while selling their voters down the river. Sorry–there’s no alternative to an informed citizenry keeping watch over their representatives.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      As for “place your welfare first” — that doesn’t enter my mind.

      I don’t make myself out to be a saint; I’ve just never for a moment thought of public policy in terms of how it affects ME. I didn’t even do that during the “me decade, (or the “Al Franken decade” that followed it).

      It’s just not the way I think. I look at policy from a 30,000-foot level, or perhaps from low Earth orbit, now that satellite imagery is so good. I think in terms of overall effect. Sure, a look at an effect on a specific individual can illustrate a point and make for a valid anecdotal lede (and sometimes I’ve used myself as an example simply because I know my own situation best), as long as we don’t try to extrapolate too much from that one example.

      For instance, I haven’t spent a moment wondering how the new tax bill will affect me. (I look at people who DO and tend to assume they have financial resources I don’t have, and sit up nights worrying about losing them.) FYI, the last time the GOP “fixed” taxes, when Reagan was in office, I got screwed — it was the worst tax year of my life up to that point. But hey, life went on…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      And David, as for “there’s no alternative to an informed citizenry keeping watch over their representatives”…

      What do we do while waiting for an informed electorate to develop?

      Until November 2016, I always thought we had what would do for an informed electorate, at least to the extent that they generally did not elect lunatics. That’s why I dedicated my adult working life to playing a small part in keeping them informed.

      For instance… say what you will about the average GOP voter, for a couple of decades there they did an excellent job of pointing the national GOP nominating process in the direction of sober, mainstream Republicans — the Bushes, Dole and so forth. Flakes needed not apply. Whatever happened on the campaign trail, in the end, these SC voters went with the safe, relatively moderate option.

      But that electorate went off the rails in 2012, choosing Gingrich over Romney (Romney being the very model of the kind of Republican SC had tended to go for, even satisfying the all-important SC vetting question, “Who’s Your Daddy?“). It was at that moment that I first started to doubt whether letting SC go nearly first in primaries was a good idea.

      But Gingrich was Solomon (OK, maybe not Solomon, but he at least had some high-level relevant experience and some understanding of public policy, even though it was from the perspective of a bomb-thrower) compared to what SC voters went for in the 2016 primary. That just negated all their sober steadying of the GOP ship in past elections. In 2016, they sat down on a keg of powder and set it off to see which way they, and the country and world, would go.

      What do we do with an electorate that is NOT informed, is proud of being uninformed, and has decided as one of its chief ideological articles of faith that none of the sources that might inform them are credible? An electorate that not only expects to be pandered to — and will not accept any candidate who does NOT pander, but demands that once elected, those candidates follow through on the pandering?

      How do we have a republic worth having then?

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