Lights, Camera, Politics

Democratic government has its fair share of drawbacks, and perhaps none of these contributes to dysfunction so much as the constant pressure re-election exerts on the minds of politicians. Desirous of retaining their influence and position, the temptation to use voting power as a lever and extort kickbacks for interest groups in constituencies who are powerful enough to sway electoral outcomes overpowers whatever duty a politician has towards the drafting of well-grounded public policy.

Constant monitoring of Congressional goings-on by C-SPAN, the dramatism of 24/7 cable news coverage and pressure exerted by single-interest groups who use oversight as an excuse for excoriating politicians who run afoul of their ideas as to how they ought to vote does nothing to dissipate any of the freneticism of modern politics.

The result is a political ethic that emphasizes action. Voters demand their representatives do something to address a bevy of issues. Egged on in part by the attention histrionics and provocative oratory draw from media, politicians are happy to oblige. At the very least, the soundbites that can be culled from exhortative demands for movement create the illusion that Politician X is exhausting himself trying to get things done for the people but is stymied by the indifference of an otherwise largely nameless, faceless government.

The folly of this behavior is evidenced in the internecine Republican squabbling that arose from the latest government funding continuing resolution debacle. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) decision to stymie the Senate’s efforts to push forward a vote that would have prevented the albeit brief shutdown was ultimately criticized for its inability to produce a result.

John Thune (R-SD) called Paul’s actions a “colossal waste of everyone’s time” and told reporters, “Well, he never gets a result.” John Cornyn (R-TX) echoed these sentiments in his criticism of Paul, saying “The outcome is going to be precisely the same.”

If the metric for political undertakings is assured success, then the platform of legitimacy which minority parties have in America is all but eroded. Often, those who dissent from the majority, are well aware of the futility of their cause; they persist for a number of reasons — loyalty to an underrepresented constituency, perhaps, or simple intransigence where principles are concerned. Lest this latter reason be brushed off as unrealistic quixoticism, it must be remembered that primaries trend towards groups with more developed ideological positions. Denigrating those, like Paul, who stand firm in do-or-die situations can undermine political efficacy and contribute to sentiments, such as were captured by the Tea Party or the Resistance movement, that politics is oligarchic and rudderless.

What’s more, the emphasis modern politics places on the end result flies in the face of limited government. The will of the majority is no more allowed to prevail at every opportunity than the will of majority is allowed to stand in its way. It is through dialogue, and consideration of what government, properly constrained, has the power to do, that policy is slowly and laboriously crafted. The emphasis should not be on quantity, or the mere hollow freneticism of action, but on quality.

Politicians like Rand Paul might act as provocateurs, but this does not mean they are wholly lacking legitimacy. Paul, like Thune and Cornyn, is an elected official and therefore has the prerogative to behave in whatever manner he thinks best represents the interests of his constituents. Thune and Cornyn have this same prerogative. They are bound to come into conflict with others in the chamber, but neither the fact that they are in the majority nor the idea that Paul is a barrier to action should sanction hostility.


Originally published at The Politics of Discretion.

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