July 23, 2011

TAX RATES DON'T IMPLICATE YOUR SOUL...:

Edmund Burke Against Grover Norquist (Garry Wills, 7/14/11, NY Review of Books)

There is no reason other groups should not issue their own pledges, given the success of Norquist's. This signals a return to what was known in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as governmental "instruction." Constituents issued instructions on how to vote, and candidates for office bound themselves to follow such instructions. Otherwise, it was said, how could a member of Parliament be echoing what his constituents thought or wanted? The obvious objection to this is that it makes office holders impervious to changed conditions, new evidence, the learning experience of exchanges with his fellows, personal growth, or crises of one sort or another. It would render parliamentary discussion otiose and ineffectual.

The best attack on instruction occurred when Edmund Burke, standing for election to Parliament in 1774, addressed the electors of his district, Bristol. The idea of instructions had been raised in the campaign, leading Burke to renounce their "coercive authority":

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. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. 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.

Burke makes clear what the real meaning of the Norquist pledge is for those who subscribe to it. They are signing over their souls. This first oath they take, as candidates, makes the next one they take, as office holders--the oath to preserve and protect the Constitution--an empty gesture. That oath, sworn to God, may call for changes of position in a crisis or where better knowledge has become available.


...but your belief in the humanity of a child does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 23, 2011 8:27 AM
  
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