Political theorists maintain different views on the role of representatives in representative government. There is the “trustee” perspective, in which representatives consider their constituent’s opinions but are trusted to use their own best judgment when voting and making decisions. There is also the “delegates” perspective, in which representatives are expected to vote in accordance with their constituents.
In the United States, we also talk about a third kind of representative: a “politico,” which is a representative who doesn’t fit neatly into either category but wears both hats depending on the issue.
In each circumstance, however, public opinion matters. Members of Congress are expected to pay attention to the attitudes and opinions of the people they represent.
That’s why the behavior of the current Congress – and the Democratic majority, in particular – is so concerning. While the country is overwhelmingly concerned with the state of the economy and national security, Congress has tunnel vision when it comes to health care.
And opposition to health care reform this month is overwhelming. According to a series of polls, opposition has been as high as 57 percent, while support for legislation has been reported as low as 34 percent. And these numbers are not new. (I’ve written continuously about the public’s discomfort with Obamacare here, here, here, and here.)
Yesterday, Peggy Noonan acknowledged that Obama’s disregard for public opinion reflects a growing disconnect between the president and voters:
Yet—and this is the key part—the president does not seem to see or hear. He does not respond. He is not supple, able to hear reservations and see opposition and change tack. He has a grim determination to bull this thing through. He negotiates each day with Congress, not with the people. But the people hate Congress! Has he not noticed?
The people have come alive on the issue of spending—it’s too high, it threatens us! He spends more. Mr. Obama seems at best disconnected from this anxiety.
The disconnect harms him politically, but more important it suggests a deepening gulf between the people and their government, which only adds to growling, chafing national discontent. It also put the president in the position, only one year in, only 12 months into a brand-new glistening presidency, of seeming like the same old same old. There’s something tired in all this disconnect, something old-fashioned, something sclerotic and 1970s about it.
At some point, you would think that the president and the Democrats would pause to consider what this might mean for their political future. Yet even when it looks like Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts senate seat might go to a Republican, Democrats continue to tune out the American public, instead calling to rush the Senate health care bill through the House before MA Sen. Candidate Scott Brown could be seated.
But just when you thought no one was listening, it appears a few Democratic pollsters are. This morning, The Daily Caller reported on a new survey conducted by James Carville’s Democracy Corps, which finds:
Likely voters have a sharply negative view of the president’s health-care and economic plans, and a far more favorable view of Republicans than they did a few months ago.
Maybe now, the President and Congress will start listening and start representing.