Conviction?

Should politicians represent the ideas of their electorate or should they act on their own convictions. There is no clear answer here.

On the face of it, in a representative democracy the elected “representative” has a duty to represent the views of the electorate. This is the reason why we saw a gay representative vote in favour of a bill opposing gay marriage. He claimed he was duty bound to represent the opinion of the people who voted for him, most of whom he believed were opposed to gay marriage.

We have records going back at least to the Peloponnesian Wars (431 BC – 404 BC) that show how easily a mob’s views can sway and how a powerful and charismatic demagogue can manipulate crowds to get his own way. Representatives in high office are expected at least in principle to remain somewhat immune to such passions. In fact the whole machinery of government is designed for inertia for this very purpose so that rash acts cannot be approved in the heat of the moment.

Whenever this machinery has failed, such as it did in the western powers after September 11 2001, the results have been catastrophic. The sweeping powers allotted to the executive after that crisis and the lust for revenge led to 2 wars that the United States has yet to completely extricate itself from.

The term conviction politician was coined by the late Margret Thatcher who described herself as one. This requires a degree of trust on the part of the electorate. Where they put their faith in the politician to do what he believes to be best for the nation. The problem here is that most people agree that Tony Blair took Britain into Iraq because of his beliefs. This turned out to be a universally derided decision.

Winston Churchill had once remarked “I will not preside over a dismemberment”. In the 1950s, during his second term as Prime Minister, he fought to retain the British Empire in a world that was increasingly throwing off Colonialism. He dispatched troops to Kenya and Malaya to quell rebellions. Both efforts took serious human tolls and showed the unsustainability of colonial rule.

In the wake of such disasters, how should a voter vote? Should he or she just choose the person who seems to resemble their own values? That is the most easily exploitable position by a cynical politician. The art of the political image is about convincing people that the candidate shares their own values and convictions regardless of whatever he or she may have said or done in the past.

George W. Bush campaigned on the basis of this platform as did Donald trump to some extent.

 

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