voice for democracy

Column: Considerations on the California recall effort and its potential consequences – The Herald-Times

This guest column was submitted by Paul Hager of Bloomington.
Following the dramatics of the California recall from afar, I found myself terribly conflicted. As some people may know, I’m an occasional libertarian politician from Bloomington, but those who know me best are aware that I view many aspects of nations and governments from a systems perspective. This perspective gives rise to my conflict, one that could be called a matter of heart versus mind.
The USA was founded, ultimately, as a federal republic. A republic is a representative democracy, not a democracy like ancient Athens where citizens had direct control of the government. History demonstrates that the Athenian system was unstable, and our founders rejected it. The chief advantage of representatives in a republican system is that they are ideally separated from transient passions and able to render a judgment based upon facts, facts then weighed on the basis of moral, legal, and such other considerations as may affect the commonweal. One of the greatest exponents of this view was a British member of Parliament during the Revolutionary War named Edmund Burke. Burke supported the arguments of the colonists legally and logically, generally presenting their case. This was his job and doing it risked making his constituents quite unhappy, which it in fact did.
I have never spoken to a little-l libertarian over the years who didn’t know something about Burke or, lacking that knowledge, couldn’t easily explain the qualities of a good representative. Telling unpleasant truths and making people angry is, from time to time, a representative’s job. Political philosophy aside, there is a practical consideration: What if, after every decision a representative makes that angers people, there is a legal mechanism allowing the “majority” to remove this person from office? This sounds a lot like the dangerous sort of democracy that the Founders concluded was a very bad idea. Aside from that, most humans (even politicians) understand rewards and punishments. If representatives are being promiscuously removed after unpopular decisions, the only ones that are elected will be those who cater to their constituents and don’t do their job.
I’m a libertarian and a Burkean. I therefore must oppose the very idea of a recall. Let me put it to readers at this point, even if you haven’t thought about these points before — given this history, doesn’t the idea of a recall seem at least a little un-American?
But here’s the thing. Larry Elder is a great guy and, best of all, he is, like me, a little-l libertarian. Initially, even though I knew he wasn’t likely to win, I allowed myself to imagine him winning and how much that could benefit California and the country. But, what if, miracle of miracles, he did win? Edmund Burke immediately appeared before my mind’s eye. This was for me, an agnostic, as close as I’m likely to come to committing a mortal sin and having some divine spirit reproach me for it.
I have a great deal of respect for Elder and think he has the makings of a great representative. But not that way. Please, sir. Reread your Burke and run in the next regular election.