THE TREATMENT MARCH 16, 2010
Slate's Will Saletan responds to pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen--and everybody else telling the Democrats not to support health care reform because it might not play well in November:
Losing your job is a scary idea. It's natural to look for a way out. It's also natural to rationalize your self-preservation. You aren't really caving; you're just serving the public by heeding the polls. Isn't that a legislator's job?
No. It isn't. Your job description is in the nation's founding documents. The Constitution specifies representative democracy, not direct democracy. The Declaration of Independence explains that to secure citizens' rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The consent authorizes powers, not bills. And it precedes the exercise of those powers. Your job now is to use your powers wisely.
Caddell and Schoen want to turn your job into theirs. From the standpoint of a campaign strategist, everything you do in Congress should aim at re-election. That's one reason why our government has become dysfunctional: Lawmakers spend less time completing the work they were assigned in the last election and more time preparing for the next one. They inflame or placate the public when they should be serving it. Elections were supposed to be a means to good legislation. Instead, legislation has become a means to election. The polling mentality has turned democracy upside down. ...
Maybe passing the health care bill will bring on a Republican tsunami. Maybe it will create a generation of Democrats who revere Obama the way their great-grandparents revered FDR. Maybe you'll be back in Congress next year. Maybe you won't. Either way, this is too big a vote to cast on the basis of politics. Every so often, a bill comes along that's bigger than anything your predecessor got to touch. You're the lucky bastard who had your seat in 2010, when that bill reached the floor. And here you are, worrying about your career, when the purpose of your career is staring you in the face.