Who???? Well step up and meet Edmund Burke (1729 -1797). Born in Ireland, he moved to England where, as an adult, he served in that country’s House of Commons and became widely recognized as a statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher. He was a great champion of the American Revolution though he apparently never set foot in our country. Historians have often referred to the man as the founder of modern conservatism and it is within that context that he was chosen as the subject of this blog.
Burke was a great believer in representative government and in the importance of elected members of any body doing their constituents’ bidding. BUT, he also held that it was each representatives’ solemn responsibility to share with those same people, his own views before voting in their behalf. In effect, Burke was saying that representative government MUST involve a dialogue between those who are elected and those who do the electing; e.g. senators and House members both listening and talking to their constituents. His belief in the value of these kinds of exchanges arose out of his conviction that both parties had the capacity to learn from one another. However, after all was said and done, it behooved the representative to vote in accordance with his constituents’ position, even if he had tried to convince them otherwise.
Reflect on the contents of the last paragraph and then think about how both elected Democrats and Republicans alike have strayed from Burke’s approach. Now, our representatives most often listen. When they do speak, it is rarely to counter the position staked out by their constituent(s). What follows is a case in point.
House representative Blake Farenhold (R-TX) was asked at a town hall meeting why House Republicans had not mounted an effort to impeach President Obama. An honest answer would have been “Because there are insufficient grounds”. But Farenhold avoided such candor by claiming that the votes for impeachment were there, but that such action would go nowhere in a senate controlled by Democrats.
As a striking contrast to this dishonesty, consider how Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) dealt with a similar opportunity during a Q & A that followed one of his speeches when he ran for president. A female audience member launched into an attack on then-candidate Obama with a remark that he was “an Arab”. The senator, not missing a beat, abruptly interrupted her and said “No maam, he’s an American” and went on to offer some other kind words about his opponent ending by saying that he and Obama just had different views on what would be best for the country.
Senator McCain’s truth-telling remains an exception; a rarity. Now, the norm involves elected representatives reinforcing the WORST views of their constituents that are based more on perceived personal characteristics rather than on issues of specific policy; e,g, Tea Party members are “retrogrades” or progressives are “communists”. And we wonder why political discourse in our country has DEvolved into name-calling, slandering, intimidation and hate-speech.
God but how we need our own Edmund Burkes.