Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shays On Representation

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays spoke at Yale early in October shortly after he filed papers to kick off his candidacy for a seat in the U.S. Senate. The following citation is taken from the October 7th issue of the Yale Daily News:

“Shays is known as a leader among centrist Republicans and an advocate of socially moderate views. He defended his moderate position by saying that ‘a party needs to be broad enough to allow a representative to represent his or her entire district.’ Because his district is moderate to conservative, Shays said that it is his duty to encompass the views of all the people.”

In the state of Connecticut, Democrats outnumber Republicans about two to one, and so called independents or unaffiliated voters outnumber Democrats by a slight margin. Given these statistics, Mr. Shay’s notion of representation – namely, that it is “the duty a representative to encompass the views of all the people” – would necessarily impel him to vote the Democratic line on bills in proportion to their presence in Connecticut. In other words, he would be disposed to vote for Democratic measures by a ratio of two to one. That is what a purely numerical representation would involve, and on issues of great importance, it probably would be wise for him to vote the straight Democratic line, thus assuring that his austere demands of true representation should be met, while also assuring his re-election to office.

There is no way, other than votes on congressional measures, for Mr. Shays to push his party to the left so that the Republican Party would broadly represent the interests of the greatest number of his constituents, which in Connecticut would be Democrats. Since independents have few representatives in Congress, their interests and programs are beyond finding out.

Republicans devoted to changing political demographics in their state, rather than succumbing year after year to the ratio of Republicans to Democrats cited above, naturally would resist Mr. Shays’ view of representation.

Too many commentators speak of moderation as if it were an ideological position, rather than a safe harbor between positions. There is nothing especially redeeming about moderation, except as moderation applies to personal habits and inclinations. Which of us, living in the time of Samuel Adams, would wish to take a moderate view of punitive taxation? Martin Luther King was not known for supporting a moderate position on the question of Jim Crow.

Some fights are worth fighting, because in some cases the fate of nations rests on the outcome of battles fought in the field and in legislatures by men of sound principle who know that success depends on armies both legislative and military. No man is an army unto himself. And the fate of states is rarely secured by putative go it alone mavericks who drift to the left – very easy to do in a state dominated by Democrats – and present themselves to the members of their own party as so called centrists. If the center in Connecticut politics cannot hold against the persistent pressure that has pushed it leftward, it may be because no effective countervailing resistance had been offered by moderate, compromising Republicans.

The course recommended by Mr. Shays in his address at Yale is not one that has not been tried; it is one that has been tried and found wanting. Mr. Shays, it should be recalled, was the last so called “moderate” Republican U.S. Representative in New England before he was up-ended by Democrat Jim Himes, who successfully presented himself to members of the 4th District as a Democratic moderate, surely in the age of Obama a vanishing species. But the moderate Republican in Connecticut is also a species that has vanished, perhaps because independent voters, given an opportunity to choose between sunshine Republicans and authentic Democrats, will cast their votes for authenticity.

Deflated Republicans will not be anxious in a primary to vote for Democratic look-alikes. The independent vote will always be a question mark, but the drift of independents away from the national direction set by Mr. Obama suggests a spirit of resistance that may not be satisfied by congressmen sent to Washington to compromise with the prevailing regime. When the context of the political play has changed so radically, there is little room for repetitive second acts.
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