For more than 200 years, there has been a great debate about whether elected representatives should be trustees for the whole nation or delegates for the constituents of their district or State.
This democratic dilemma -- small "d" -- is now vividly on display as a group of centrist senators determine the final shape of health care reform, indeed decide whether there will be health care reform at all.
None is in a more precarious position as "delegate" than Blanche Lincoln, Democratic senator from Arkansas. She is the only one of the moderates up for re-election next year, and she is facing thunder on the right and on the left in her home state, which voted overwhelmingly for John McCain last year (59% to 39%).
One of the most famous statements of the trustee ideal (at least if you took government courses in college) is Edmund Burke's speech to the electors of Bristol, England in 1774. After he had won his seat, he rejected the position, taken by his opponent, that representatives should follow instructions from their constituents.
"...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.....But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, to any set of men living....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.
"Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors, from different and hostile interests....but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole....the general good, resulting from the reason of the whole. You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament."
Similarly, in the equally famous Federalist Number 10, James Madison, evoking the trustee ideal, argued 15 years later that the republican form of government envisioned by the new Constitution would avoid the "violence of faction" by electing representatives from a broad, diverse cross-section of citizens. Such representatives to the national government will be those
"whose wisdom may best discern the best interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporal or partial considerations.....The Federal Constitution forms a happy combination....; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures."
Yet, Madison and Hamilton also argued that, by having many different voices and interests represented in the halls of government (the delegate concept) and mediated through the system of checks and balances, no single factional interest could dominate and compromises for the public good would be necessary.
Which brings us back to Ms. Lincoln, a person who describes herself as delegate from her State, not trustee of the nation. In determining her position on the health care bill, she has been quoted as saying: "I think what is most important for me is to take a look at what is presented on behalf of Arkansans and figure out whether it is something that really makes sense. I am responsible to the people of Arkansas, and that is where I will take my direction." Her official Senate biographical page notes that her tenure has been marked by "a fierce loyalty to the people of Arkansas and their shared values."
Her record since her 1998 election to the Senate (55%-42%) and her 2004 re-election (56%-44%) has been moderate, sometimes leaning left, sometimes right (support of Iraq war, the Bush tax cuts and limits on late-term abortions).
In the health care debate, Senator Lincoln has expressed opposition to the "public option" and is concerned about the bill's inability to stop rising health care costs. But, as a member of the Senate Finance Committee she supported health subsidies to extend health coverage to millions as well as protections from insurance denial for those with pre-existing conditions.
Her problem today is that she is running 6-8 points behind the leading Republican challenger; she has been targeted by the Republican Senatorial campaign as vulnerable; her approval ratings have slumped; and one or two Democrats may challenge her in next year's primary if she obstructs health care reform. Some Arkansas polls show a majority in the state opposing the health care reform bill. Recall: she was the last of the 60 votes needed recently just to let the health care debate proceed in the Senate.
So the dilemma for her is excruciating---and the threat to her party's priority program is palpable. Will she put her finger to the home state wind and, in the end, decide what is the best way to be the Arkansas delegate (and get re-elected)? Or will she be willing to be the 60th vote to stop the filibuster (acting as trustee) and help enact landmark legislation, even if the bill up on final vote does not meet her home state political needs or even every one of her requirements?
Of course, people might say, she has to do what is necessary for her constituents to get re-elected. But it worth remembering that, in the past, senators have voted as trustees of the nation even though they knew it meant certain defeat at the polls. A young senator from Massachusetts wrote a book in the mid-50s about such statesmen. It was called Profiles in Courage.
It told the stories of men like John Quincy Adams who supported President Jefferson's 1807 embargo against Great Britain in retaliation for British aggression against the American merchant fleet even though the embargo was extremely unpopular in Massachusetts. Adams resigned from the Senate after a storm of protest in 1808. Or Thomas Hart Benton, senator from Missouri, who opposed the introduction of slavery in new territories, even though his was a slave-owning state. He lost his seat in the 1850s. Or Edmund Ross, senator from Kansas, who opposed the Radical Republicans in his own party and voted against impeaching Andrew Johnson for removing Edward Stanton as secretary of war (and proponent of harsh treatment of the South) contrary to a law (later declared unconstitutional) preventing the president from removing cabinet officers without Senate consent.
So, as we watch the Senate end game on health care over the next few weeks, we will not just be observing the fate of the hallmark domestic initiative of the Obama Administration. We will also be witness to the latest act in the timeless drama of the democratic dilemma---elected representative as trustee or delegate---which has been playing out since our nation was born.
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A post-script. Edmund Burke was true to his principles. Four years after his famous "electors" speech, he supported more free trade with Ireland. This outraged his constituents in Bristol, a trading center that benefited from the status quo. This, and other principled positions, led him to withdraw from the Bristol election in 1780 and accept a "safe" parliamentary seat in a "rotten borough" controlled by an aristocratic patron where he served until 1794. A principled position but a soft landing in an undemocratic jurisdiction.
Ben Heineman Jr. is is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and at the Harvard Law School's Program on Corporate Governance. He is the author of High Performance With High Integrity.
After more than a year of rumors and speculation, Bruce Jenner publicly came out as transgender with four simple words: “I am a woman.”
“My brain is much more female than male,” he explained to Diane Sawyer, who conducted a primetime interview with Jenner on ABC Friday night. (Jenner indicated he prefers to be addressed with male pronouns at this time.) During the two-hour program, Jenner discussed his personal struggle with gender dysphoria and personal identity, how it shaped his past and current relationships and marriages, and how he finally told his family about his true gender identity.
The show went to impressive lengths to explain unfamiliar concepts of gender and sexuality to its audience, although it didn't always go smoothly. Sawyer’s questions occasionally came off as awkward and tone-deaf, mirroring a broader lack of understanding by many Americans about the difficulties that trans people face. But Sawyer’s empathy also shone when explaining concepts like gender identity and transitioning to her audience—a rare experience on primetime American television. It was a powerful signal of how much progress the LGBT movement has made over the past twenty years, even though the T in that acronym still lags behind the other three letters in both social acceptance and legal protections, and in how much progress remains to be made.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The editors of Smithsonian magazine have announced the winners of their 12th annual photo contest, selected from more than 26,500 entries. The winning photographs from from the competition's six categories are published below: The Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile. Also, a few finalists have been included as well. Captions were written by the photographers. Be sure to visit the contest page at Smithsonian.com to see all the winners and finalists.
Leon Trotsky is not often invoked as a management guru, but a line frequently attributed to him would surely resonate with many business leaders today. “You may not be interested in war,” the Bolshevik revolutionary is said to have warned, “but war is interested in you.” War, or at least geopolitics, is figuring more and more prominently in the thinking and fortunes of large businesses.
Of course, multinational companies such as Shell and GE have long cultivated an expertise in geopolitics. But the intensity of concern over global instability is much higher now than in any recent period. In 2013, the private-equity colossus KKR named the retired general and CIA director David Petraeus as the chairman of its global institute, which informs the firm’s investment decisions. Earlier this year, Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, Britain’s CIA, became the chairman of Macro Advisory Partners, a firm that advises businesses and governments on geopolitics. Both appointments are high-profile examples of a much wider trend: an increasing number of corporations are hiring political scientists, starting their board meetings with geopolitical briefings, and seeking the advice of former diplomats, spymasters, and military leaders.“The last three years have definitely been a wake-up call for business on geopolitics,” Dominic Barton, the managing director of McKinsey, told me. “I’ve not seen anything like it. Since the Second World War, I don’t think you’ve seen such volatility.” Most businesses haven’t pulled back meaningfully from globalized operation, Barton said. “But they are thinking, Gosh, what’s next?”
In India’s state of Uttar Pradesh, the village of Kannauj lies a dusty four-hour drive east of the Taj Mahal, the white-marbled wonder built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third and favorite wife. Empress Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 giving birth to their 13th child. The Taj is Jahan’s grand paean to lost love. But he also mourned his queen in much more personal ways. For one thing, Jahan never again wore perfume. Fragrant oils—known in India as attars—had been one of the couple’s great shared passions.
Then and now, Kannauj was the place to fetch the fine scents—jasmine oils, rose waters, the roots of grasses called vetiver, with a bouquet cooling to the nose. Exactly when attar-making began there, no one is certain; archaeologists have unearthed clay distillation pots dating back thousands of years to the ancient Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley. But today, Kannauj is a hub of a historic perfumery that draws much of the town to the same pursuit. Most of the villagers there are connected to fragrance in one way or another—from sinewy craftsmen who steam petals over wood fires in hulking copper pots to mothers who roll incense sticks in the shade while their toddlers nap on colorful mats nearby.
When healthcare is at its best, hospitals are four-star hotels, and nurses, personal butlers at the ready—at least, that’s how many hospitals seem to interpret a government mandate.
When Department of Health and Human Services administrators decided to base 30 percent of hospitals’ Medicare reimbursement on patient satisfaction survey scores, they likely figured that transparency and accountability would improve healthcare. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials wrote, rather reasonably, “Delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care requires us to carefully consider the patient’s experience in the hospital inpatient setting.” They probably had no idea that their methods could end up indirectly harming patients.
On Thursday, we’ll finally get a sense of the true scope of one of the most important businesses for the Internet.
Amazon is due to announce the size of its Web Services product. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a set of cloud services often used by startups, big companies, and government agencies. You might know AWS better as “the servers that run Netflix and Instagram.”
AWS lets companies buy powerful computers cheaply and whenever they need them to handle traffic, to store video, to power a database. It’s not an understatement to say that AWS is the piece of infrastructure that has enabled the current tech boom. The only single technology which might come close to it is the smartphone.
Why? The 2010s tech industry is built on quickly scaling a product to as many users as possible. It’s based, on other words, on fast growth. AWS and its competitors are what permit that fast growth. They have taken the normally considerable equipment costs—of servers, cables, hard drives, and power supplies—and abstracted them away. Entrepreneurs and coders can think about and purchase computing power on an as-needed basis, while the physical data centers they’re actually using sit far away in Virginia or Oregon.
This month, many of the nation's best and brightest high school seniors will receive thick envelopes in the mail announcing their admission to the college of their dreams. According to a 2011 survey, about 60 percent of them will go to their first-choice schools. For many of them, going away to college will be like crossing the Rubicon. They will leave their families -- their homes -- and probably not return for many years, if at all.
That was journalist Rod Dreher's path. Dreher grew up in the small southern community of Starhill, Louisiana, 35 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. His family goes back five generations there. His father was a part-time farmer and sanitarian; his mother drove a school bus. His younger sister Ruthie loved hunting and fishing, even as a little girl.
One of the most shocking parts of watching Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is finding out that the god of grunge was once a really cute kid. Director Brett Morgen peppers his documentary with Super 8 clips in which the future Nirvana singer can be seen as an infant, toddler, and grade-schooler, blowing out birthday candles, carrying around a stuffed panda, and sending kisses to the camera. Towheaded and cheery-eyed, wearing tiny suit jackets and cardigans, lil Cobain could have been in a Normal Rockwell painting. That he was the iconic all-America boy helps explain his later rebellion, making him an avatar for how traditional domestic life begat counterculture, and …
... oh, wait. I’m mythologizing, aren’t I? Assuming causes and effects that can’t ever be known, turning a human being into an abstraction:Montage of Heck, in some theaters now and airing on HBO on May 4, was created specifically to ward against this sort of thing. In 2007, Courtney Love gave Morgen access to a trove of previously unexamined recordings, notes, and artwork relating to her late husband, with one bit of instruction that would take the director eight years to carry out. “It was time to examine this person and humanize him and decanonize these values that he allegedly stood for—the lack of ambition and these ridiculous myths that had been built up around him,” Love told The New York Times.