Someone should do a poll. The question: should politicians base their votes based on polls or on their own judgment and belief? There was a time when I think the general consensus might have been in favor of politicians standing for something in spite of the prevailing wind. Now it’s clear that the answer is whatever the politician wants it to be at the time.
Exhibit One: I’m at the National Association of Health Underwriters Capitol Conference in Washington, DC. This morning the general session featured lawmakers (from both parties) including Representative Mike Pence, part of the Republican Leadership in the House. Representative Pence, a former radio talk show host, is articulate and bright.
One of his arguments for why President Barack Obama’s health care reform package should be defeated, however, was that polls show Americans oppose the health care reform the legislation. This point has been made frequently and consistently by many Republicans and opponents of the President’s reforms.
Interestingly, this line of reasoning was not brought up when, late last year, during the debate over reforming how banks and other financial institutions are regulated. The financial reform bill passed without a single Republican vote. I assume Democrats made the argument during the debate that Republicans should support the legislation because polls show the public supports such reforms. (Interestingly, when individual components of the health care reform package are surveyed, voters tend to favor them).
So apparently many politicians believe lawmakers should cast their vote in accordance to the polls when the polls coincide with the pre-existing position of the politicians, but should vote their conscience when the polls disagree with their pre-existing position. (Note: a pre-existing position is different than a pre-existing condition. Just so we’re clear).
Legislating by responding to polls is a dangerous path. It subjects legislating to the passion of the moments. The Founding Fathers were aware of the dangers of this approach, consciously creating layers of checks and balances to prevent this outcome (a fact Representative Pence noted in arguing for subjecting health care reform to a 60-vote super-majority in the Senate). If our representatives in Washington are simply supposed to cast their vote in accordance with the latest polls we could save a lot of money by simply replacing all 535 members of Congress with the folks at the Gallup Organization.
But that’s not what most Americans want most of the time. Instead, Americans expect their representatives to debate, deliberate and use their best judgment. After all, we generally consider those who stand by their principles statesmen; those who base their votes on the latest survey results we consider mere politicians.
There’s a lot wrong with President Obama’s health care reform plan. Opposing it because of the latest survey results is a lousy reason. Instead, lawmakers who determine the package will do more harm than the status quo, should vote against it. Representatives who conclude the reforms are an improvement over the status quo should vote for it.
It’s really as simple as that. No polling required.