On the eve of a historic vote in the House on health care reform Republicans aren’t conflicted. They’ll all vote ‘no.’ But on the Democratic side it’s not so easy. Some members who favor reform are in districts that poll strongly against; some members who oppose reform are in districts that poll in favor. Both groups are conflicted: vote their conscience or vote their constituents?
Marjorie Margolies argues, in an op-ed in Thursday’s Washington Post, that members should vote their conscience. She’s a voice worth paying attention to, since her vote of conscience in favor of President Clinton’s budget proposal is generally considered to have led directly to her defeat in the 1994 election. But if you think Margolies’ advice just serves her desire to get health care reform passed, consider what the father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke had to say on the subject in 1774.
Burke’s Speech To The Electors Of Bristol was well known to Jefferson, Madison, and the other Founding Fathers. Many political scientists consider it one of the documents underlying our Constitution. Burke told his constituents that a representative owes them “his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
Four years after the speech Burke’s constituents urged him to oppose a motion in Parliament to open up trade with Ireland. Burke resisted their demands and said:
“If, from this conduct, I shall forfeit their suffrages at an ensuing election, it will stand on record an example to future representatives of the Commons of England, that one man at least had dared to resist the desires of his constituents when his judgment assured him they were wrong”
He was defeated at the next election. As was Margolies, 216 years later. Both took the ethical path, doing their duty rather than taking care of their reelection prospects.
Tags: . Reelection, Clinton budget, conscience, Constitution, Edmund Burke, ethics, Founding Fathers, health care, Jefferson, Madison, Marjorie Margolies, political science, Speech To The Electors Of Bristol