It is a most curious state of affairs when our representatives all assert to know what “the American People” believe, or want, and yet they demonstrate little ownership for the origin of their own beliefs. Daily we hear President O’bama, Senator Graham, Representative Cantor, et al, tell us that everyone knows which policies the American public supports and which they do not. They expound upon a reading of tea leaves to divine what they consider the obvious state of mind of the electorate, and are showily flabbergasted at any—be they colleagues, journalists, or the individuals of the public itself—who would deign to disagree with their divinations.
May it be suggested, humbly, that the American public is of no mind at all, and is collectively clueless as to what it might want at any one time. Recall, this is a public that substantial percentages have, at various times, believed the following; that we have a foreign-born President, that Gaia is a special deity which will protect the Earth, that Fred Flintstone actually did have a pet dinosaur, that we are called to be both steward and exploiter of the natural world by the same god, that corporations are persons, and that plants and animals have souls, that climate change is a hoax, that the Holocaust is a hoax, that our government had something to do with 9/11. Go figure—we live in a populace who often forgoes allowing history or science or basic logic to inform, bind, or determine beliefs. And yet our elected representatives look to us for guidance and claim our wishes are known to them? No wonder President O’bama and Speaker Boehner arrive at opposing visions. But do they truly look to us for guidance, or are they merely massaging our vanity and ego? Let us all hope they are insincere in their flattery and are only playing to the limited knowledge and perspectives of their respective bases.
The Congressional willful lack of apprehension and understanding of facts, data, and policy impacts leads directly to the Public’s apprehension and fear for the future of the country. So rather than making a disingenuous attempt to represent half an ill-informed constituency (whichever half the reader may think that is), there is another method our lawmakers can relate their positions and policies to the populace. Let them state their own opinions, their own goals, their own agenda, and not preface such by the ill-formed locution device of ‘the American people want….’ Since no one truly knows the desires of the American people at any one time—and who are distinctly ill-equipped to pass judgment on many topics–would it not be more proper and fitting for a Congressman to offer his own beliefs and judgments (and any supporting data or reasoning) and then allow the electorate to decide if they agree or not. It is the Congressman’s place, and the President’s place, to know more than most of us concerning the thorniest and most difficult challenges we face, and to explain the pros and cons of policy options to us. The essence of leadership is to show us a way, and demonstrate why and how a particular path is preferred to others. Pandering to the most ill-informed and unaware of us is not a path to success—nor is being a lap dog to the most powerful and moneyed of us. Congress and the President need to lead. They may, and often will, argue for different paths—as it should be. Political philosophy and personal station do matter—no one has a monopoly on either truth or right action. More importantly, the selection is rarely made between truth and falsehood, or right and wrong action, but rather a best attempt to muddle through the challenge of the time.
So to Congress and the President: own the argument, state your reasons, decide, and move on. Stop pandering with the bromides, platitudes, and empty rhetoric. Few believe you anyway.