Of Candidates, Mandates, Elections, Biases, And “The People.”

Lincoln at Gettysburg.

There is a candidate in a local election who has written on their web page the following:

[My] vote is your vote. [I] will not hesitate to set my personal bias aside and cast a vote that is aligned with a majority of the Citizen’s.

Our intent here is not to call out the particular candidate who wrote this, because most candidates will tell you the same thing – that they will vote in accordance with the wishes of the people.

The problem is that saying you’ll vote with the “majority of the citizens” is not only silly, it is dangerous.

First, let’s look at the practical aspect of this idea. The candidate themselves just went through an election where only 26.8% of the registered voters voted. That means that 73.2% of the people in the election chose not to vote for the particular candidate or any candidate for that matter. The majority of the citizens either did not want or did not care to have the candidate elected to office. The practical aspect is “how does one represent the majority of people who didn’t even vote or vote for you?”

The second part of that is there is no way for an elected official to know whether they are hearing from a majority of people, or only those who are vocal and in fact be a minority of the voters. Our form is a representational republic. It is not a direct democracy. If we wanted a direct democracy we’d have elections every month on issues but we don’t do that. We elect people to make votes and decide policy and direction of the country, state, county, cities and towns.

The third part of the problem is that people will act in a manner that benefits themselves. If we were to say “we are going to vote the way the people want,” people could come together and demand that more money be taken from your wallet if you are over a certain income level. If you have worked hard, bought a house, have savings etc, and there are more people out there who have not done that, they can demand a vote where the elected official in keeping with their promise, would have to vote to take your hard earned dollars.

We have seen that in other areas as well. Elected officials, in response to a vocal group of citizens, have voted to take away the rights of speech and religion of people. Even though those rights are supposedly protected by the Constitution and other laws, elected officials can and do listen to either the mob or the vocal mob and restrict your rights.

That’s just wrong.

In 1774, Irishman Edmund Burke gave a speech to the Electors of Bristol where he discusses the voting responsibility of elected officials. In the speech, Burke says in part:

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion. (emphasis ours)

(The speech truly is a must read to help understand the job of an elected official, but just as important, what the Founding Fathers believed as Burke was one of the few voices in the British Isles that supported the colonies.)

Certainly an elected official should listen to citizens and even, if possible, vote with the majority’s wishes but that vote should not be because of what the majority wants, but rather what is right.

Throughout our history, we have had elected officials who have done the right thing in the face of withering opposition from the majority.

For example, it is estimated that only one third of the people supported breaking away from England and forming the United States of America. If the Founding Fathers had gone with the majority, as a country we wouldn’t be here.

Slavery is another issue where the minority of people at the time were for keeping people as slaves. The sentiment was not only popular in the South, but in the North as well. One of the reasons the South broke away from the United States at the time was a fear that the Congress would pass laws outlawing slavery or at the very least, make the owing of another human difficult to maintain. The South was concerned that they would be faced with a Congress that would do the right thing and free blacks throughout the country. Is there anyone reading this who thinks that the Congress should have done what the majority of people wanted and not passed and ratified the 13th Amendment which was very unpopular to the majority of the people?

Moving onto the 20th century, can any of us imagine, truly imagine women not voting? Not holding office? In the early 1900’s, the idea of women’s suffrage was extremely unpopular but men listened and did what was right rather than following the majority and passed the 19th Amendment allowing women to vote.

Even within our collective memory we say laws that were struck down and changed that limited the rights of minorities (Jim Crow laws) and restricted the right to vote by poll taxes and voter qualifying tests. Once again, these were very popular ideas and yet good people stood up and said “those laws are wrong. We are going to change them.” They did the right thing over the popular thing.

We can hear people saying now, “but what about the Gettysburg Address? The speech where Abraham Lincoln said:”

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (emphasis ours)

What about that “…of the people, by the people, for the people… Doesn’t that mean that elected officials should do the will of the majority of the people?

Actually, no. It doesn’t.

There is a difference between the peoples’ best interest and the peoples’ voices. Lincoln was not talking about “majority rule,” but in fact repeating a common refrain he had used on the campaign trail: sometimes elected officials must make tough decisions that are contrary to the the majority will of the people. Lincoln’s comments were based on the idea that an elected official need always to listen to voices, but in the end, vote and pursue a course that is best for all of the people.

Does that mean that an elected should automatically discount the majority of people? Absolutely not. An official should still listen to the people. That means listening to all of the people on all sides of an issue, and then use their judgement to make the best decision.

(As a side note, why is it that we teach our kids not to bow down to peer pressure – doing what the majority of people want – and instead do the right thing, and then tell our elected officials we want them bow down to peer pressure and accede to the majority no matter what?)

That means electing people with character, honesty and intellect. That means electing people who are willing to stand up to special interest groups that don’t have the peoples’ interest at heart. It means standing up to groups and mobs of people who don’t have all of the peoples’ interest at heart.

It means having a vision and holding true to the principles upon which the person was elected.

Burke was right:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

We will happily accept elected officials who disagree with us on principle. We will work to convince them of the error of their ways as well as listen to what they are saying.

We cannot and will not accept those elected officials who sway and bend to the path that is easily taken – the path of least resistance. Appeasement to the mob or to the majority is never a good thing and always seems to end in disaster.

If you think that an elected official voting strictly on what majority or mob wants, just remember that sooner or later, the mob will come after you.

2 Responses to “Of Candidates, Mandates, Elections, Biases, And “The People.””

  1. Thomas Gaume says:

    Point taken.

    Consideration in process.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Thomas Gaume,

      We hope you know we were not singling you or any other candidate in our post.

      We believe that good candidates and good representatives do their homework and vote in the public interest, which may or may not be what an often ill-informed public wants.

      People should get elected based on their intelligence, their integrity, and doing their due diligence on issues. That’s hard sometimes for people to grasp.

      As we said, we will disagree with people who come to different conclusions than we do, and that is simply because intelligent people can disagree.

      What we will never accept are those who have no character or integrity and only vote “the easy way out.”

      Good luck in your race.

      A. Afterwit.