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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Worrying about American Democracy

Our politicians have become followers rather than leaders.

In their slavish devotion to opinion polls, they have abandoned their duty to form public opinion and, thus, to lead. As a result, the likelihood that necessary, although not always comfortable, policy changes will be adopted is low.

With Republicans mindlessly chanting "no new taxes" and Democrats spinning plans to "tax the rich", the serious issues - entitlements, health care, education, immigration, the Middle East and Iran to name some of the more significant - are shuffled off to the next Congress, or the next President, whose willingness to take action is vanishingly close to zero.

The job of a leader is to persuade the nation to act. The electorate opposes leaders by its desire to enjoy the present without facing hard choices. Since we now have so few true leaders, the natural desires of the electorate prevail: a situation that is likely to be devastating in the not so short run.

Those who claim leadership - by virtue, I suppose, of having pandered to a sufficient number of voters to win election - should think long and hard about these remarks by Edmund Burke who, in a 1774 speech to the electors of Bristol, said:

"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".

Once more, there is little new under the sun!

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