Good Government

Democracy in New York’s 9th Congressional District

It has been 10 days now in which the leading political story is the story of Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York. 10 days of titillation, 10 days of feigned shock and outrage, 10 days of lies and apologies, 10 days of righteous indignation and hypocrisy, 10 days of political pontification and prediction.

The primary theme has been that Weiner should — many say, must — resign his position.

The call for his resignation has come from the other political party, but that is to be expected. It has come from TV pundits and talk show hosts — that, too, is expected. It has come from his own political party leaders and some members and from the President — that is unusual, but understandable, as they all do the political win-lose calculations for the next election.

The call for his resignation has not, however, come from the people who hired him — from his constituents. Weiner has been elected 7 times to the Congress by his district; in 2010, he received 59% of the votes to win. Polls taken among the voters in his district have produced a lot of ambiguity. People are offended by his actions, but they are also pleased with his actual job performance.

The relevant question here is whether the constituents have — or deserve — a choice in the matter of who their representative is. Should democracy prevail in this case? Or should this choice be overruled by the voices echoing outside of the 9th Congressional District of New York?

It is stunning to note that virtually no commentator — whether politician or pundit  — has started the conversation with this simple truth: "The people of the 9th District are the only ones who can decide this question."

In almost all cases, the authority of the voters is not mentioned at all. Instead, pronouncements of outrage from various leaders are given the status of authority. But the voters — that core element of a democracy — are left in the wings, without a microphone or even access to the stage. The case is treated as one best left to the professionals.

What is the message we send to these voters when we demand that their Congressman resign? The message is clear: "You voters are not smart enough to decide for yourselves. We will decide for you. Or your Congressman will decide that, despite your support, he should not follow your decision in the last election. You voters won’t have a voice because you don’t know what is best for you."

Democracy is a messy business. Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Democracy depends on people, who are as likely to be ignorant and prejudiced as they are to be well-informed and clear-thinking.

Are there cases where the people should not be permitted to decide on their own governance? Is this such a case? What governing principle is this based on?

In good government, democracy is always presumed to be the first and best option. In good government, the only outcry should come from voters inside the 9th District. In good government, all external forces should surrender their opinions to these voters, and advise the voters on whether their decision of November 2010 should be reconsidered or not.

This lynch mob attitude toward Congressman Weiner is not democracy.


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