Public Opion And A Republic Essay, Research Paper
Because America is a representative republic, and not a true democracy, public opinion is very important. As Representatives to their constituents, the lawmaker s need to have their finger on the pulse of the people. By reading the public opinion the lawmakers are best able to discern what the people want. They are then able to look at an issue from all sides and hopefully form an opinion that is best for the district or state that they represent. Public opinion should aid in the formulation of public policy; it should not control it. Lawmakers are elected under the assumptions that they are the best-qualified persons in that district or state to do the job of creating public policy. They devote their careers to the study of policy. They are able to look at an issue much more in depth than the average person, thereby making a much more informed decision. If they were to govern strictly by public opinion, then there would be no need for their services.
On December 19th 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Clinton. The Republican leaders knew that this was not a popular decision in the eyes of public opinion; but after looking at all of the evidence that was brought before them they had to do what they felt was consistent under the rule of law. By the time the trial was convened in the Senate, the mood of the people had reached one of reversion on the whole issue of impeachment. They were tired of watching the political positioning that was taking place. Also, there had been no new revelations about sex in the past few weeks, and therefore the people lost interest. The senators were left with two choices. They could have a long drawn out trial and listen to all of the evidence, then make an informed decision, which may not be aligned with the public opinion. Or they could follow the public opinion, which wanted the trial to end as soon as possible. They choose the latter. By limiting the evidence that the Republican trial managers were allowed to present, the Senators were able to acquit the President and still be able to truthfully tell the people that after looking at all of the evidence the had made the right decision.
In Federalist No.10 James Madison talks of the advantages of a republic over a democracy. In a republic, Madison states that public opinion is passed through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be the least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Is this what Madison and the rest of the founding fathers had in mind concerning the Senate s handling of the impeachment trial of President Clinton? If the leaders of congress are so concerned with the opinions of the people, then they should disband in favor of a national polling system. Every household, homeless shelter and person within the voting age should be given an electronic voting device. Each time there is an issue to be decided, a person can vote yea or nay. This way the public opinion will always coincide with public policy.
At the time when the Constitution was written, and the Federalist papers were published, American voters were much more knowledgeable about the political process than the voters of today. When the Federalist Papers were published in New York newspapers they were not only read, but also comprehended by a large majority of the electorate. Despite this fact, the founders were weary of a true democracy. Jump forward to today. We live in a myopic knee-jerk ten-second soundbite MTV society. People today pay little attention to politics. What little news they are able to absorb from the mainstream media is growing ever negative (C-L, Patterson, 272) A good example is given in the Light textbook. There is a political pop quiz run by the Washington Post. Fifty three percent of the people surveyed knew who the Speaker of the House was. Twenty six percent knew how long a U.S. Senators term was. (Light 138) Despite this lack of knowledge, we are saturated with poll after poll telling us what the American people think about issues that one could study for months and not feel comfortable enough to make an educated decision. What is worse, is that instead of making educated decisions themselves, elected representatives are governing by these opinions; e.g. the Clinton Impeachment trial.
I am not saying that the people s opinion s carry no weight. I just think it is time for the elected officials in this country to stop hiding behind the polls and become accountable for their actions. The people have two ways of practicing direct democracy. The first involves voting. If a person is unhappy with the way an elected official is doing his or her job then they can vote them out of office. If enough people are dissatisfied with an official then a change will be made to coincide with public opinion. The second form of direct democracy is the ballot initiative, and the referendum. This form of democracy should be a part of every state. With the initiative and referendum, the people who are abreast of the latest issues can inform the rest of the electorate. By becoming involved in an initiative or referendum issue people become more knowledgeable about the current issues of the day and governmental procedure. In the end this will only prove to strengthen our society.