Your views vs. my views

July 25, 2009

For many years now, I’ve been concerned that members of the two houses of Congress treat their jobs as license to pursue their personal fantasies. In the past year or so, I see evidence that that mindset extends to people looking at the Presidential candidates. Consider: A candidate for, let’s say, U.S. Representative, says: “I intend to do X, Y, and Z if I am elected. If you agree with those things, vote for me.” Sounds reasonable on the surface, right? It’s the way candidates have campaigned at least as long as I’ve been eligible to vote. However, it’s not how reps and Senators are supposed to do their jobs. Their job is to represent us. NEVER ONCE have I heard a candidate say, “I will put aside my personal beliefs and values and do A, B, and C because you, my constituency, want me to.” The result is kind of a mandate-based way of executing their jobs where they must think, “Hey, they elected me, they must be cool with everything I want to do.” (This is also a danger of single-issue voting: You vote for someone based on their views on one issue and you may not like what you get in the other issues. For example, you may vote for someone who says she’s pro-life on the abortion issue but get a whole package which includes pro-life on the capital punishment issue, which you disagree with.)

Now it’s happening here in a non-elected position.I post this now because of the recent Senate confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor. What this has to do with Miss Sotomayor is that she’s being forced to explicate her values for a job in which one is explicitly tasked with setting one’s personal values aside. The assumption on the part of the questioners is that once in the position, she (or anyone in that job) will use the job as a bully pulpit from which she will shove her values down our throats.

I figure the reasons Mr. Sessions, Mr. Graham, Dr. Coburn, et al., are making her explicate her values, besides my point that it’s become the status quo, are a) they think it’s okay to do their jobs that way, and b) we’ve just had eight years of a President who shoved his agenda down everyone’s throats and they were cool with it, probably even enjoyed it. They most likely enjoyed it because they shared his agenda. Shoe pinches when it’s on the other foot, doesn’t it, gentlemen?

The most bizarre application of this theory was revealed last year in a comment thread on a Washington Post article where Ron Paul’s stance on abortion came up. Having delivered thousands of babies in his first career, Dr. Paul personally abhors abortion. Commenters on the article thought that because he’s pro-life, he personally would prevent all women from having safe, legal abortions. Hello—anyone in there? McFly?! Ron Paul is a Libertarian! The whole point of the libertarian movement is to allow people to make their own decisions, including ones you don’t agree with. If there was any one candidate, possibly the only one, who would not push a personal agenda, it was Ron Paul.

Alan Dershowitz famously said (I’m paraphrasing) that the mark of a great First Amendment lawyer is to successfully defend someone whose views you virulently disagree with. Why do so many people not seem to understand this? Could it be that pushing their personal agenda is the only way they know?

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