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.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
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.
Without the financial support that many white families can provide, minority young people have to continually make sacrifices that set them back.
The year after my father died, I graduated from grad school, got a new job, and looked forward to saving for a down payment on my first home, a dream I had always had, but found lofty. I pulled up a blank spreadsheet and made a line item called “House Fund.”
That same week I got a call from my mom—she was struggling to pay off my dad’s funeral expenses. I looked at my “House Fund” and sighed. Then I deleted it and typed the words “Funeral Fund” instead.
My father’s passing was unexpected. And so was the financial burden that came with it.
For many Millennials of color, these sorts of trade-offs aren’t an anomaly. During key times in their lives when they should be building assets, they’re spending money on basic necessities and often helping out family. Their financial future is a rocky one, and much of it comes down to how much—or how little—assistance they receive.
Maya Arulpragasam is a famous rapper, singer, designer, producer, and refugee. When she was 9, her mother and siblings fled violence in Sri Lanka and came to London, and the experience was formative for her art. As she explained to The Guardian in 2005 after the release of her debut Arular, “I was a refugee because of war and now I have a voice in a time when war is the most invested thing on the planet. What I thought I should do with this record is make every refugee kid that came over after me have something to feel good about. Take everybody’s bad bits and say, ‘Actually, they’re good bits. Now whatcha gonna do?’”
That goal—to glorify people and practices that the developed world marginalizes—has been a constant in her career. Her new music video tackles it in a particularly literal and urgent way, not only by showing solidarity with refugees at a moment when they’re extremely controversial in the West, but also by posing a simple question to listeners: Whose lives do you value?
To solve climate change, we need to reimagine our entire relationship to the nonhuman world.
Humans were once a fairly average species of large mammals, living off the land with little effect on it. But in recent millennia, our relationship with the natural world has changed as dramatically as our perception of it.
There are now more than 7 billion people on this planet, drinking its water, eating its plants and animals, and mining its raw materials to build and power our tools. These everyday activities might seem trivial from the perspective of any one individual, but aggregated together they promise to leave lasting imprints on the Earth. Human power is now geological in scope—and if we are to avoid making a mess of this, our only home, our politics must catch up.
Making this shift will require a radical change in how we think about our relationship to the natural world. That may sound like cause for despair. After all, many people refuse to admit that environmental crises like climate change exist at all. But as Jedediah Purdy reminds us in his dazzling new book, After Nature, our relationship with the nonhuman world has proved flexible over time. People have imagined nature in a great many ways across history.
Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and other presidential contenders appease Donald Trump at their own peril.
Give Donald Trump this: He has taught Americans something about the candidates he’s running against. He has exposed many of them as political cowards.
In August, after Trump called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and vowed to build a wall along America’s southern border, Jeb Bush traveled to South Texas to respond. Bush’s wife is Mexican American; he has said he’s “immersed in the immigrant experience”; he has even claimed to be Hispanic himself. Yet he didn’t call Trump’s proposals immoral or bigoted, since that might offend Trump’s nativist base. Instead, Bush declared: “Mr. Trump’s plans are not grounded in conservative principles. His proposal is unrealistic. It would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.” In other words, demonizing and rounding up undocumented Mexican immigrants is fine, so long as it’s done cheap.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The generation has been called lazy, entitled, and narcissistic. Their bosses beg to differ.
Yes, many Millennials are still crashing on their parent’s couches. And there’s data to support the claim that they generally want more perks but less face time, and that they hope to rise quickly but don’t stick around for very long. Millennials have also been pretty vocal about their desire to have more flexible jobs and more leave time.
But does all of this mean that all Millennials are actually worse workers?
Laura Olin, a digital campaigner who ran social-media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, says that’s not been her experience. “You always hear about Millennials supposedly being entitled and needing coddling, but the ones I’ve encountered have been incredibly hard-working and recognize that they need to pay their dues.”
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
What I learned from attending a town-hall meeting and listening to students’ concerns
Sometimes it takes a group of young people to set you straight.
For months now, I’ve been reading about college students who’ve been seeking “safe spaces.” They’ve often been met by derision—even the highest ranked Urban Dictionary definition is mired in sarcasm, describing them as having “pillows” and “soothing music” that “allows them to recover from the trauma... of exposure to ideas that conflict with their leftist professors.”
I also had some mid-life skepticism about teenage hyperbole, that is, until I attended a town hall meeting at Duke University (my alma mater) earlier this month. The “community conversation,” as it was called, had been hastily convened to discuss the rash of racist and homophobic incidents on campus. Listening to those students—and watching their expressions—I realized that what’s been happening at Duke is serious, and no amount of sarcasm can disguise the pain and anger on campus, or cover up the real dangers lurking there.
Places like St. Louis and New York City were once similarly prosperous. Then, 30 years ago, the United States turned its back on the policies that had been encouraging parity.
Despite all the attention focused these days on the fortunes of the “1 percent,” debates over inequality still tend to ignore one of its most politically destabilizing and economically destructive forms. This is the growing, and historically unprecedented, economic divide that has emerged in recent decades among the different regions of the United States.
Until the early 1980s, a long-running feature of American history was the gradual convergence of income across regions. The trend goes back to at least the 1840s, but grew particularly strong during the middle decades of the 20th century. This was, in part, a result of the South catching up with the North in its economic development. As late as 1940, per-capita income in Mississippi, for example, was still less than one-quarter that of Connecticut. Over the next 40 years, Mississippians saw their incomes rise much faster than did residents of Connecticut, until by 1980 the gap in income had shrunk to 58 percent.