Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Re: The Great Litmus Test

I'm not sure I can add much to this eloquent discussion, except to say that you are both right in the ideal world of a republic. The very nature of a republic places responsibility in the hands of both the people and also the representatives of the people. It is therefore incumbent upon the representatives AND the people to engage in deliberation, particularly on such important issues as authorizing use of force against other nations or enhancing executive powers at the possible expense of civil liberties.

I see two major complicating factors to this idealistic description of responsibility in our republic. First, the representatives, and not the people, have far greater access to relevant information in the current political system. This includes not only public information available on the issue at hand, but more importantly sensitive or classified information that would not be available to the general public for some time. It is unreasonable to expect that the American people can make an informed decision on sensitive issues (such as those described above) because they are not likely to have the necessary information. For example, we (the public) had to take the Bush administration's word when they claimed initially that Iraq posed a serious threat to our security. However, our representatives did not have to take the administration's word. They (at least some of them) most certainly had access to intelligence reports and to experts that would be able to help them assess the credibility of the reports. Because of the privileged nature of such information, the greater responsibility now lies with the representatives to make a careful, considered decision.

Second, and already implied, our representatives possess the authority to make policy decisions on the daily level, while the American people do not. The people can at some point hold their representatives accountable, but this is rarely an expedient process. It is therefore up to the representatives in particular to educate themselves and be aware of current issues, as their daily decisions will have profound impacts on the United States and the world.

In the cases of authorization of use of force against Iraq and passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, I believe that our Congress largely failed to live up to their responsibilities as representatives of the people. They had far greater access to information regarding the threat posed by Iraq, and the immediate authority they held required a greater responsibility to educate themselves on these issues, which they apparently did not do.

No comments: