Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Dear David: Voting Advice

Rob Asghar in this weeks Ashland Daily Tidings makes some very good points about how public opinion is affecting politics. Here is how he ends his piece:

"Illiberal democracy was Zakaria's term for democracy run amok, a public that was more interested in its own whims than in what might be best, a public that has to be restrained through bills of rights and constitutional protections.

Are you and I, Joe and Jane Sixpack, fit to overthrow tyrants? More often than not, yes. Are we able to judge which wine has the finest topnotes? More often than not, no. Can we judge which opera singer is the most skilled? Nope. Do we understand the complexities of a euthanasia case as well as professional judges trained in the nuances of the constitution? No chance in hell.

The first step toward making an illiberal democracy liberal again is to encourage humility on the part of its bosses: the general public. It needs to stop taking its pulse so constantly. It needs to begin to place at least a small amount of trust in its designated experts - judges, wine critics, the whole snobby lot of them - and stop believing that majority opinion is the only measure of decency or success. "

I agree with Rob that as a society we are placing way too much emphasis on quick polls. We should be placing more emphasis on reaching the right solution which may or may not include a public consensus. Many matters, such as abortion, have been complicated by the changing tides of public opinion.

There is no quick fix for this manifestation of mob rule, but there is a long term solution that will reduce the problems associated with knee-jerk legislation and arrogant judges. The only way to have better government in the United States is to have better legislators and the only way to have better legislators is for us to reconsider the way we, as individuals, decide who gets our vote.

As long as we continue to vote for politicians based on where they stand on the issues, we will continue to get legislation that is based on public opinion and polls. In America we want leaders, but we elect followers.

Maybe if we focus less on where a candidate stands on the issues and if we focus more on a candidate’s character, we will start to get political leaders who are not as easily swayed by uninformed public opinion. Maybe if we start listening for how much a candidate knows and if we start listening for how much a candidate is willing to criticize their own party, we will start to get leaders who aren’t as easily swayed by the winds of political change.

Maybe if we started voting for the best person and if we started making candidates earn our votes with their exemplary character instead of their campaign promises, we will start to get leaders who can withstand the hot wind of public opinion, and do what is in the best interest of our country, not what is in the best interest of their political career.


Hammertime said...

I agree with you 100%,and this echoes what I have said. We should elect leaders whom we believe will do what is best for the country, not just what we like. That's why I'd support Colin Powell as a presidential candidate, even though he doesn't have some of the same views on things that I do. He is truly a man of character, and can be trusted to do what is best, not what is popular.

Unfortunately, those type of people seldom run for office. When they do, how do you pick them out? We knew John Kerry wasn't one, because he truly changed his positions with the polls. However, did GWB's consistency come from true character or a recognition that consistency polled well and that most of his views did too? While we can't be sure, his Social Security plan doesn't poll well, and he is still pressing it hard. It makes me beleive that he has some of the character we seek.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

President Bush isn’t perfect, but I agree with you, he doesn’t seem to be quite as poll driven as most. Colin Powell is a great example. As a diplomat, he is very careful about what he says and how he says it, but you can tell he has integrity. He would have a hard time getting nominated for President, but I would vote for him.

The concept of voting for the best person is a lot easier than the practical application. By the time most candidates make it to the national spotlight, they have been playing the game for a long time. I think if voters got more involved in local elections, and if voters would occasionally support a person in the “other” party, and if voters occasionally withheld their vote when “their” partie's candidate had questionable character, things would get a little better. I think the main thing though should be to look for candidates that criticize their own leadership. It’s too easy to criticize the other guys, criticizing your own takes characters, especially in the game of politics.