It’s The People They Represent

We tend to throw a lot of blame at our elected officials when they take action contrary to our values. It’s often with a “how can they possibly support X”, where “X” is the incendiary topic of the day. (And there have been a lot of incendiary topics of late.)

Here’s the problem: if the system is working even half-assed the way it’s supposed to, it may not be their fault.

They’re just doing their jobs.

Exactly as the system encourages.

If the system really works even close to the way it was designed, there are two possible scenarios:

  • Representatives represent the opinions of their constituents. In an ideal scenario, they would do so quite possibly to the exclusion of their personal opinions.
  • Representatives represent the interests of their constituents. In an ideal scenario this would align with the constituency’s opinion as well, but not necessarily.

In either case the bottom line is that representatives represent their constituents.

Hopefully you can see where this is going.

When an elected representative supports an issue that seems contrary to our values, it’s his (or her) constituents that are at the heart of the position. Either they agree, or the position is considered to be in their best interests.

But mostly they agree.

The reason agreement almost has to be the case is that they system is rigged — rigged to re-elect those representatives that “please” their constituency. When we don’t agree with something — even though it’s in our best interest — that’s not very pleasing. As a result the scales are balanced to pandering to popular opinion.

And that’s why “those” representatives get elected again and again. They do a better job of making their constituency happy, whether or not it’s the “right” thing, or whether or not other people outside of their constituency might agree.

That should tell us something extremely important: that support that is at odds with our values? It probably aligns with those of the majority of people that the representative represents.

When an elected official takes a particular position that you vehemently disagree with it’s not (necessarily) because they’re being asses, it’s because most of his people disagree with you.

I know, in reality the system is more complex than that, and my distillation of the process is quite simplistic, but I believe it’s still an important one to consider. We’re often disagreeing not with an individual politicians, but with the majority of the people they represent. This is particularly apparent when we see that same politician get re-elected again and again. While it’s never the mandate that most politicians love to claim, it’s at least a tacit endorsement of the positions, opinions, and values he represents.

It’s easy to say “he’s a jerk”, when discussing the actions of legislator, but when you take into account that he or she represents a significant number of people … are they all jerks?

And before you write them off as being under the influence of some corporation, or their party, or whatever … how do they keep getting elected? By doing what their constituency is willing to vote for. I’m not saying that those outside influences aren’t there. I’m saying that whatever the path, the people that person represents are apparently pleased with the results — over and over and over again.

Next time your favorite “love-to-hate” politician takes some action or a stance that shocks and appals you, consider for a moment how the people who voted for him might feel. They might well be absolutely thrilled by his position.

It’s not one person you disagree with, it’s many.

And that might impact your own view on the issue.

Of course, he or she could just be a jerk. That, too, seems to be encouraged by the system. 🙁