The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The people have spoken but what did they say?
Tom Smith

Sometimes I feel that anybody capable of having their intelligence insulted has no business paying any attention to politics. It is like a prudish person sitting down to watch a pornographic movie. It is coming to the nuisance. Yet how can one not pay attention when so much of it is consequential? The utterances politicians emit insult one's intelligence in part, I think, because they are not meant to listened to intelligently. It reminds me of somebody telling me of some particularly awful music that it had to be listened to at great volume, because otherwise it sounded really bad.

This does make sense in a way. Most people only half listen to political utterances coming out our elected masters. They speak but are not trying to be particularly cogent. They are just trying to say the sort of things that when half listened to will make a sort of sense to the person who is not really listening very carefully.  The talk about the people having chosen one thing or another in the recent elections is of this variety.

The people, or some of them anyway, it seems undeniable now, did indeed vote to reelect our current President. This fact is the basis of the claim floating around, and periodically asserted by the President's supporters and sometimes admitted by his opponents, that one should accede to his desire to raise taxes on "the rich", spend more to stimulate the economy, and so forth.  And it is fair to say that the President did on numerous occassions during the campaign express his desire to raise taxes on higher income people. And yet subsets of those same people voted to put into the House various representatives who just as candidly opposed the same thing. There's nothing paradoxical about this, unless you have a particularly simple-minded conception of who "the people" are.

Obama speaks sometimes as if his election amounted to a Rousseauvian exclamation of the General Will, while the election of everybody else was chopped liver. But one can't assume he really thinks that, since he is one of those who is always saying things he can't possibly think anybody listening carefully is going to believe, a sort of mood music.  I am aware I am giving our young president the benefit of the doubt here.

The people who voted for various House members, even the most frantic Tea Partiers among them, are people too. There are all kinds of people in this great land of ours, and there's really very little that can be done about it.

The House is doing its legitimate business by getting in the way of a popularly elected President. Our constitutional system is exactly in the business of frustrating popular eruptions of poorly thought out and sentimental plans.  To do something really stupid in our system of government, you need even more votes than Obama recently got, although with the support he garnered, he is still in a position to cause plenty of trouble. If Representatives stand in the way of raising taxes, or whatever other brainwave beams out from control tower Obama, because their constituents oppose it, or even just because it's a bad idea, while nevertheless a majority of the Enlightened support it nationally, then they are still doing exactly what they should. It's not the job of a congressman from some deep red district to roll over just because the New York Times hears the people saying otherwise from the 50th floor of the new Times building. Probably the people in the Times building and elsewhere who are saying this don't even believe it themselves. They could reduce the general level of noise by not saying it anymore but I'm not getting my hopes up.

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It is interesting how although 48% of the country voted for another opponent it seems as if the overwhelming majority believe in President Obama's beliefs. You would think so anyway if you regularly consulted any popular media channel. I agree that people should vote for not only what they believe, but what they know to be truth.

However transparency and selflessness seem to be rare in today's political landscape. There are many promises, but no plans to reach these astronomical goals. We keep our fingers crossed as well. Thank you for the post

Posted by: Tiffany K | Dec 12, 2012 10:50:44 AM

"... who is always saying things he can't possibly think anybody listening carefully is going to believe, a sort of mood music. " I like the "mood music" term. It's an apt metaphor for a lot of political discussion, trigger words, the " know what I mean" pronouncements. Unfortunately both sides use them.

Posted by: Kieth | Dec 13, 2012 2:28:39 PM