Representative Politics: It’s More than a Feelin’

If you ever find yourself in absolute agreement with everything a politician says, you are a fool and/or being snowed. However, that does not mean that the politician in question is a bad person. The job of being a politician in a democracy — a law-maker, a policy-builder — is to represent one’s constituents. Not just the ones they like. Not just the ones they agree with. All of them.

The problem, of course, is that those constituents (including you and me) are never, ever, going to agree about everything. The job of the politician and the representative, therefore, is to listen to people and groups of people, appeal to all of her constituents the best possible way, say things in the way particular groups of people need to hear them to understand those things as clearly as possible, listen again to those people, and then to make decisions, as a representative of those inevitably diverse groups of individuals, about the best way to navigate those ever-changing, dynamic differences and demands based on knowledge, experience, and solid judgment.

This can, from the outside, look like inconsistency or hypocrisy or self-serving exploitation. Sometimes it is. But there will only continue to be more and more of the latter if those of us doing the voting continue to expect our representatives to serve “me and my” interests alone (which includes our particular social groups and enclaves that define those identities). If you want better government, vote on a candidate’s qualifications, experience, and demonstrated judgment — not on your perception of their (completely and totally constructed) personality as it appeals to you. (Whether or not you would want to hang out with a candidate has not a damn thing to do with their qualifications for office.)

The choice we are faced with in this election is between a representative with whom (perfectly naturally) none of us totally agrees, and a person who represents no one but himself and no interests but his own, and is running for office based entirely upon a constructed personality. If you are on the left and think that voting third-party is going to make a point and make you feel better, I would remind you of what happened last time the left did that: Ralph Nader pulled votes from the left on what would have been a much easier win for Al Gore, Bush was appointed President by the Supreme Court, and we (the world) will be dealing with the ensuing destabilization of Middle East (among several other things) for at least decades to come.

Bernie Sanders’s campaign served an important function this year in shifting the Democratic platform and candidate back to the left where they belong. But he was never going to win. And that’s ok. The shift was actually more important. (A Bernie presidency would have been even more disappointing than the loss of the nomination because he would never have been able to accomplish what he was promising, leading to an almost inevitable reactionary shift in the other direction.) Bernie knows this. His job, and the job of his supporters, is now to maintain that pressure within the left flank of our two-party system.

To those of you who are “Bernie or bust” or somehow think Gary Johnson is a constructive use of your vote: If you really want to shift the ideological balance, national elections are not the place to do it. It’s too late by then. No single elected official — even a President — can do everything. The system is designed so that they cannot — and that’s a very good thing. If you want to shift the ideological balance, or build third-party viability, vote in local and State elections. Vote every time. Know who you are voting for and why. And if you don’t like your options, find someone you do like and get them to run for office — or do it yourself! This is what makes America actually great. Let’s make America think again.

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