It’s currently in vogue among conservatives to argue that health care reform should not pass because it is unpopular. The argument sounds like this: “Public support for Obama’s plan has dipped to just 36 percent. Nevertheless, Democratic legislators bull ahead, ignoring the will of the people in a mad dash to plant their ideological flag on the hill of political ambition, no matter how many Congressional bodies it costs.”
I could attribute this basic idea to any of a dozen of my fellow conservative authors, and now, with the stunning election of Scott Brown, the pleading has turned to shouting: “How dare you turn a deaf ear to the clear, express sentiment of the electorate! Will you so flagrantly disregard the people you’re supposed to represent?”
As you may already have surmised, I am not impressed by these lines of argument. In fact, I’m writing this column because their use disturbs me so greatly. To put the point bluntly, conservatives who denounce the Democratic leadership in this way have either forgotten what we believe or else are willing to sacrifice what we believe on our own altar of political persuasion.
Make no mistake, this particular appeal to the “will of the people” works with an audience. If it didn’t work, no one would use it. But effectiveness alone is not enough. The strength of our political position is that our arguments flow from a clear and consistent set of principles. Unless our party is very badly named, we don’t believe in direct democracy. We believe in a republic. In a democracy, the people decide what policies are followed, whereas in a republic, the people elect leaders who decide what policies are followed. This is far more than a trifling difference.
The question is simple: Are our leaders obligated to do what the majority wants, or are they obligated to do what seems right to them? Although an ideal world would allow both outcomes, that world and ours don’t always coincide. In the present case, we have an overwhelming Democrat majority in Washington pushing an overwhelmingly unpopular health reform plan. And so what?