I recently had this point made to me, about a president paying too much attention to polls, after I had said that it’s not a good thing for someone to pay too much attention to polls:
“Interesting comment about it seeming like a bad thing that a president pays too much attention to the polls. Hmmm. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the president was supposed to be representing the public, so perhaps it’s a GOOD thing that he pays attention to the polls…” (paraphrased)
Now, it seems to me that this is not a good thing, but I am unable to articulate WHY I believe that to be true. Could anyone here enlighten me on this?
America is a republic, not a democracy. Our founding fathers feared the injustices of a government dominated by the passing whims of the people. We elect legislators and executives that they may exercise their judgment and principles, not merely so that they may act as unreasoning conduits for our own opinions.
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention… But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living… Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
And as for the other two replies above that, I guess what I don’t see here is how the President is different from any other elected official, other than being put into place through the electoral college. It is indirect, but in essence he becomes the one man singled out as the representative of our nation.
I see it being said that he is not a representative, but it would help to know how he differs from the typical representative. As I see it currently, his job is to represent the whole instead of the many split parts of it the larger group represents individually.
What is the difference?
The above from me is partially being asked while playing devil’s advocate and partially because I really don’t have the background on this to understand it in whole. A big part of it is probably my misunderstanding of the definiton of representative as used here.
He isn’t… at least he shouldn’t be. The original plan for our government was to have the entire federal government be representative. And by “representative”, I don’t mean “does exactly what his constituents want.” What I do mean is “represents my true interests.” Or, to use Nick’s phrase: he needs to make sure it comes out right in the end.
The idea behind representative democracy is that the people simply don’t have time to educate themselves on the various facets and ramifications of proposed laws, so our elected officials (presumably) do all that research for us and vote according to our true interests.
As our population grew better and better educated, our democracy is becoming more and more of a direct democracy, rather than a representative one. People are less willing to delegate legislation to “authorities”, and instead want to directly influence the proces… at least when it’s about an interesting topic.
Thus, nowadays it seems as if people want Congressmen who really do “follow the polls”… that is, people who will respond to their direct wishes. However, it seems like the President is still being evaluated closer to the original concept of “representative”: did the end result turn out OK? I’m guessing this different standard is because the President is subject to so many more influences and responsibilities than Congressmen are, so it would be rather silly to expect him to “obey the people”. If he “obeyed the people” he wouldn’t be a head of state so much as a schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur.
Another thing, I believe, is that the President is chartered primarily as the “Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces”. He is put in place so that a civilian is in charge of the military might of the nation. You can’t have that kind of thing run by committee (Congress) and you don’t want it to run without a civilian leader. Whereas on the other hand, decisions about domestic items such as budgets, urban planning, the economy, social programs, etc. don’t tend to require the immediacy of a one-person leadership in a tactical situation and ought to be considered in light of the various views of the various peoples of the country (Congress).