Douglas Hill
opinion, humor and small town common sense
Saturday, October 16, 2004

Representative Democracy and the South Dakota Senate Race

There is a nice piece about the South Dakota senate race between Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and Republican challenger John Thune, by Kirk Victor of the National Journal, entitled Fighting For His Political Life, which appeared on Friday, October 15, 2004.

To me, the race highlights the question of just what representative democracy means. We vote for the candidate who we believe will most closely represent our interests – economic, political and social. It is unlikely that we will find a candidate who will agree with us on every issue, so we are often guided in our choice by the political philosophy and observed character of the candidate, with the hope that the judgments our representative in government is called upon to make on our behalf will reflect our own interests and beliefs. We understand that there are specific issues about which the representative will be far more informed than we, and expect him to exercise his good judgment, as our surrogate, with the understanding that he may well be held accountable to explain to us any such decisions he has made on our behalf. We also expect our representative to vote his conscience, and not merely vote as a matter of political expediency. If that vote is seemingly contrary to positions held by his constituency, then it is incumbent upon the representative to fully explain his vote – in fact to attempt to persuade his constituency of the justness of his vote, by moral or logical argument. Reasonable people of good will may disagree on issues.

The failures we see in modern representative democracy are attributable less to candidates who consciously misrepresent, or otherwise fail to reveal their true political and social philosophies to their constituents than, more importantly, to an ill-informed, apathetic electorate that fails to hold its representatives answerable for their positions and record.

Our representative democracy is further subverted by the media, which frequently colors, distorts or outright misrepresents the issues and positions of candidates, to serve its own agenda, which is often in conflict with the agenda of the constituencies. It is difficult to make an informed choice when the choices are not accurately portrayed. Good faith political discourse should involve a logical discussion of clearly-framed and understood issues and positions, not muddied misrepresentations and distortions. If you need to hide or misrepresent your position, then perhaps you need to revisit the merits of your position. Ultimately, the success or failure of representative democracy rests with the electorate, which is charged with holding the candidates and the media to task.

That is what makes the South Dakota senate race so interesting. Senator Daschle is campaigning in this close race solely on economic issues that matter to his constituency – the so-called bread and butter issues, arguing that as a power broker in Washington, he is uniquely positioned to bring home the bacon to his constituents in South Dakota. He has played down, as much as possible, his liberal social and political positions, which are antithetical to much of his constituency. He has resisted having a forthright discussion of those positions with his constituency, and failed to explain his vociferous obstruction of every effort undertaken by the current administration, which is favored by a majority of his constituency. The South Dakotan electorate, however, is an informed constituency, so it will indeed be an interesting race to follow.
Henry David Thoreau

Simon & Garfunkel

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