Let’s create a scenario. You are in Congress. You know the people’s will. You believe that what is best for our nation is contrary to the peoples will. Doing what you believe is best for our nation will make you very unpopular and cause you to lose the next election. What do you do? Do you follow your oath of office? Or do you follow the people’s will?
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
Here is the President’s oath of office.
“I, [insert the name of the one taking the oath], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States so help me God.”
Note that both oaths place upholding the US Constitution as the top priority .. even when the will of the people opposes it. There are no conditions attached.
This is the predicament two Presidents found themselves in: President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Both Presidents listened to the economic experts and their advisers who determined that the nation cannot afford to let the financial system collapse. Along with them, the Congress found itself in the same position. Even Senator McCain supported TARP at that time.
So the question becomes: In the 2008 elections, did the people vote against TARP? The answer is a resounding ‘no’ because both candidates supported the Emergency Economic Act of 2008 which created TARP. In order to voice opposition to TARP, voters would have had to vote for a third party.
Both Presidents believed that the financial system must be saved. They believed that without TARP, not only would our international financial firms fail, but those failures would also have a devastating effect on the firms that deal with those failed financial firms. Both Presidents knew that the decision to save the financial firms would be very unpopular. Both Presidents chose to do what they believed was best for the nation.
I think the final vote for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was:
Senate: 74 yes 25 no
House: 263 yes 171 no
Some Republicans in Congress went against the will of their conservative constituents and voted for what they believed was needed to save the US economy and the failing financial firms.
Did our founders intend for Congress and the President to blindly follow the will of the people. Absolutely not. One of the questions our founders had was “What if the majority is wrong?”
Regardless of what one thinks of the Iraq war, President Bush took a bold step that eventually became unpopular. He sent the military in to take Hussein out of office, Bush obviously knew this would not be a popular move. A campaign was staged to convince the public and the world that Iraq should be invaded. Bush insisted that the way to defeat terrorism was to implement a democratic government in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again public opinion eventually took second place to what our leaders believed is best for our nation.
In retrospect, President Bush was a bold brave leader who was not afraid to go against his own party and (with regard to TARP) the people’s will when national security depended on his actions. That is one’s duty when one believes that the people are wrong. Obama has also proven himself to be a bold brave leader with regard to health reform, the economic recovery and the war on terror.
The absolute rule “Do what the voters want” could be disastrous if the voters are wrong: Especially in international affairs. We don’t need elected officials who blindly follow their constituents will on national and international issues. We need leaders who will do what they believe is best for our nation — even when it is against the will of the people.