The Philodemic Room
February 11, 2016
Resolved: The politician should represent the interest, not the will, of the people
The Society returned to the Philodemic Room to consider a fundamental question of our democracy last Thursday night, as Mr. Joseph Laposata (COL ’16) of Massachusetts keynoted for the affirmation against Mr. Luke Schafer (COL ’16) of New York. And, making her induction, Ms. Kayla Garrett (COL ’19) of California also keynoted for the affirmation against Mr. Allen Lane Easterling (COL ’19) of Maryland, also making his induction.
Mr. Laposata opened the debate by recalling his trying times in a Congressional office speaking to constituents, leading to the idea that our democracy is not pure democratic rule but rather a representative democracy with delegation. Indeed, we have an unpopular vote with a fair selection process. Additionally, Congresspeople are humans and have the right to vote freely as they see fit. To do everything that constituents want is an unattainable good.
Mr. Easterling began by framing the debate, clarifying that interest means something that is independent of its success, and that will signifies an agreement made during the election process. He argued that American democracy is a right to self government, that even 535 congresspeople can be as despotic as a king. Decrying the “totalitarian democracy” of a political elite that dominates the system, he argued that the sole purpose of a legislature is to represent the people’s will. He also argued that the American system protects minorities through its courts, a non-partisan institution.
Ms. Garrett countered Mr. Easterling by evoking a doctor’s prescription, saying, “The Affirmation prescribes to you the right medicine.” The doctor, a person of expertise should decide what is in the patient’s best interest, thus the politician should evaluate her own expertise when the will and interest of the people diverge. “Be a leader not a follower,” followed with a case for the trustee model of representation, with politicians acting on behalf of uninformed voters. The interest of the people considers all opinions and chooses the best one from among them.
Mr. Schafer finished out the opening keynotes by countering Ms. Garrett’s point, warning of false medicine. He summed up the debate’s central cleavage as between listening to people we put in office or our own consciences. The negation claimed that people have a duty to let their representatives know the people’s will. Ultimately, politicians cannot disregard the wishes of their constituents.
Mr. Hallisey opened the floor speeches by recalling a key architect of the Affordable Care Act saying that the American people are stupid. This is an example of a government official who decided he knew what was in the best interest of the people, as he deemed them ignorant- a poor judgement. Mr. Hallisey also argued that politicians can fill the role of specialists, referencing Federalist 10 to help illustrate the balance between the role of factions and the majority. On the negation, Mr. Zawora turned to look at the aggregate will of the people, a smarter accumulation that can exceed specialist knowledge if representatives are smart enough to listen to it. Chancellor Christopher DiMisa (COL ’15) argued that actually the people cannot prioritize or hold off their wants to plan for the future. Decrying Chancellor DiMisa’s sports analogy as false, Mr. Dinneen supported the negation. Mr. Shaughnessy argued that great states change the will of the people to support their own interest, as Winston Churchill did in World War 2. In the social contract, the people make a prior decision to the politician’s. On the negation, Mr. Willis pointed out that great statesmen only deal with crisis, and in regular times, we need regular representation.
Ms. Aleman evoked last year’s GUSA election, labeling Joe and Connor as the people’s will but the other tickets as their interest, showing that people will vote to whomever appeals to their direct will. In contrast, a successful bureaucracy has the interest of the people in mind. Vice President Little held up the complexity of governmental systems, contrasting the trustee and delegate systems, and demanding of the floor whether it was possible for someone to vote without their own interests in mind and questioning the ability of delegates to know the will of the people. Ms. Landau countered by holding up representatives as a way of breaking bubbles and breeding understanding, while Mr. Graff argued that dictators are the ones who know the interest of the people, in contrast to our parties which put forward their visions to represent the will of the people. President Thanki put forward diversity as block between the will and interest of the people, as in a non-homogenous population, those who do not vote do not have their interest represented.
Mr. Brody Sloan (SFS ’19) opened non-member speaking time by claiming that the reality is that ‘interest’ is never really clear, while Mr. Brody Ladd (SFS ’19) used Germany’s refugee crisis to argue that interest can lie outside of the state, that it lies in the long run future. Ms. Madison Ferris (COL ’19) argued that rather the people know what is best for them in the immediate circumstances while Mr. Joshua DeGastyne (GUSOM ’19) eloquently spoke of the movie Gladiator, using low turnout to make a case for the affirmation.
Mr. Fletcher re-opened member speaking time by arguing that all we can expect from our government is protection, that it has never truly represented our will, and can only protect our interest in being protected. On the negation, Chancellor Whelan sought to ground the debate in the world that exists, using the example of Margaret Thatcher’s breaking of the coal miners strike to illustrate the pitfalls of protecting the people’s interest. Chancellor Ringwald countered by saying that the politician truly cannot know what is best for the people because their vision is colored by the high influence of interest groups and biased information. Mr. Musgrave argued against Chancellor Ringwald by claiming that the debate is about what politicians should be – the will of the people comes in broad strokes, and we count on politicians to know the details.
Ms. Hernick evoked the fast changing nature of people’s views, saying that local repsentation is often out of sync with the population while Mr. Sakati used the example of a politician going against the will of his people to keep the country together. Mr. Rinaudo alluded to the Society’s love for Kant by saying, “I’ve not read Kant…but I know you’ve all pretended to.” He claimed that he knows right and wrong for himself, but would not presume to judge it for everyone. Mr. Perez-Reyes countered by saying that “Democracy is the people!” – thus we are ceding power to choose someone to speak for us. Ms. Kurek pointed out that politicians have opinions too – and that the will of the people may change, but interest is influenced by corporations and big money. Ms. Cuppari closed the floor by arguing that interest and will overlap a lot – but when they diverge the will changes faster than interest does, so interest provides a more long-term perspective.
Mr. Schafer returned to the stand to counter Ms. Cuppari by evoking the short-sighted scandals of many politicians, arguing that institutions cannot change quickly because they will lose constituents, so an incremental positive change is much better than falling into disorganization because of a mismatch between the will and interest of the people. On the affirmation, Ms. Garrett summed up her side as focusing on the expertise of politicians in a world with a lot of disagreement. Ultimately, the average American watches politics while a politician lives it. Thus, politicians should improve the lives of their constituents and listen to all of them, in general.
Mr. Easterling denied that he knew what is best because he was keynoting, acknowledging that he was just a freshman. He recalled Ms. Kurek’s model of representation to reconnect the politician to different views and interest groups. Ultimately, the community tells the politician to do what is best for them, not what an interest group wants. Mr. Laposata closed out the debate by evoking leadership. To lead means not waiting for public opinion, and he argued that representative need to galvanize their people and the masses will follow. “No one can know they are right, but politicians do their best.”
And with that, the Society voted to award Merrick points to the most eloquent speakers of the evening:
Mr. Shaughnessy: 5
Mr. Laposata: 4
Mr. Rinaudo: 3
Mr. Musgrave: 2
Ms. Hernick: 1
This brings the current Merrick totals to:
- Mr. Shaughnessy – 15 points
- Mr. Musgrave – 6 points
- Mr. Laposata & Mr. Perez-Reyes & Mr. Kleinman – 4 points
- Chancellor Ringwald & Ms. Li & Mr. Rinaudo – 3 points
- Mr. Graff & Chancellor Whelan & Mr. Shuman & Ms. Hernick – 1 point
And, with a vote of 38 – 1- 21, the Society soundly affirmed this resolution!
The Society then inducted Ms. Garrett and Mr. Easterling – a hearty congratulations to our inductees!
(A note of thanks to Rosa Cuppari and Xinlan Hu who helped record the debate in my absence)