It dawned on me the other day that I may not have been totally consistent with my own professed philosophy about how our representatives should operate, a philosophy that is actually based on theology, so it’s a bit of a sticky wicket. I think I’m OK, but I had to work it out — I don’t think I’ve rationalized, but that’s why I’m blogging about it.
First, anyone who has ever read this blog understands that I’m Presbyterian to the core — even the name (Decent Hills and Orderly Hollows) comes from the Presbyterian catch phrase of doing things decently and orderly, itself a reference to 1 Corinthians 14;10: ” … but all things should be done decently and in order.”
Another core value of Presbyterian theology is “God alone is Lord of the conscience,” and that’s where the rub comes in.
You see, we insist that in our governing councils, the representatives — we very deliberately call them “commissioners” instead of “delegates” — vote their own conscience, and not what they think the people “back home” want.
It’s all wrapped up in the belief that if people get together and prayerfully consider the issues, the Holy Spirit is present in the debate. It’s the reason we do not permit proxy voting; you’ve got to be there and listen to the discussion to cast a vote.
Now, take this out of church councils and put it into the political arena, which is absolutely legitimate as Presbyterians were very influential in the creation of our government.
(It’s not just Presbyterians who profess this idea. Thanks to friend David Stammerjohn who recently posted on Facebook this quote from philosopher Edmund Burke: “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.” Emphasis added. And, yes, it is a bit odd, perhaps, for me to be quoting a father of conservatism.)
And there’s my challenge.
I have been pretty vocal against any attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, repeatedly urging West Virginia’s Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito — who happens to be Presbyterian, and attended the same church I did in Charleston, WV — to pay attention to her constituents’ wishes as she voted. (While speaking against some of the early Senate legislation, she eventually ended up siding with McConnell/Trump down the line.)
So, I’ve been wondering if I’ve ignored my own theology/philosophy in this. Could it be that Sen. Capito, and others who voted in favor of the various efforts to overturn the ACA, from “repeal and replace” to “skinny repeal,” were acting on their own conscience, after dutifully and prayerfully listening to the debate and considering the issues?
But that’s the real problem, isn’t it? We see less and less evidence that there’s legitimate debate and/or discussion of the issues in our legislative chambers. There seems to be really only one goal: get re-elected.
I guess we’ll never really know if Capito, et al. voted their conscience or their self-interest of whatever kind (although the cynics among us will laugh at that suggestion, convinced the whole process is corrupt and bought).
Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the ACA repeal support of Capito and others are not, at the core, based on rational discussion and conclusions, but on political expediency. (Hence, my statement in the first paragraph.)
I guess I’m still naive enough to hope that we can get back to a place where our politicians can at least have some leeway to act as they truly conclude is best for the country, and not what is best for their own political future. It’s unfortunate that the populace has for a long time indicated it is not in line with trusting its representatives to make wise and correct decisions based on the good of all and the facts.
No, instead the expectation is that representatives must vote exactly the way we want them to, regardless of any other factors, and we want them to vote only the way that is going to benefit “me, myself and I.”
And that is sad, and ultimately may well destroy this country because it makes compromise and negotiation difficult, and without that available to us, our future as a republic — not a democracy — is in peril.