James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, December 17, 2007

Congress Represents Congress

A year ago, Ron Paul stood up in Congress to oppose granting the Dalai Lama a Congressional Gold Medal:
Mr. Speaker, with great sadness I must rise to oppose this measure granting a congressional gold medal to the 14th Dalai Lama. While I greatly admire and respect His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and fully recognize his tremendous status both as a Buddhist leader and international advocate for peace, I must object to the manner in which this body chooses to honor him.

I wonder if my colleagues see the irony in honoring a devout Buddhist monk with a material gift of gold. The Buddhist tradition, of course, eschews worldly possessions in favor of purity of thought and action. Buddhism urges its practitioners to alleviate the suffering of others whenever possible. I’m sure His Holiness the Dalai Lama would rather see $30,000 spent to help those less fortunate, rather than for a feel-good congressional gesture.

We cannot forget that Congress has no authority under the Constitution to spend taxpayer money on medals and awards, no matter how richly deserved. And I reiterate my offer of $100 from my own pocket to pay for this medal–if members wish to honor the Dalai Lama, all we need to do is pay for it ourselves. If all 435 of us contribute, the cost will be roughly $70 each. So while a gold medal sounds like a great idea, it becomes a bit strange when we see the actual cost involved.
Nobody took Paul up on his offer, and his was the lone dissenting voice to granting the medal.

Paul is one of 435 Representatives. It is surely the case that in a poll of 435 randomly-selected American citizens, more than one would agree with Paul's statement above. But how many more? 5? 50? 100? 218?

Paul's views are unusual in Congress, but they're not all that unusual among the people. With Congressional districts now containing 700,000 residents, I think what happens is that a certain type of personality generally rises to the top and wins elections. That type is more concerned with image than substance, and are thus more likely to do what they think will be popular and earn the respect of their peers. Thus, there is greater homogeneity in ideas and ideology in Congress than among the general population. Members such as Paul and the socialist Senator Bernie Sanders are exceptions that prove the rule. They're not elected because the U.S. has exactly one libertarian district and one socialist state, but because Congress is just large enough to allow these "anomalies" to show up. Yet the reality is that probably at least 5% of Americans share most of Sanders' views, which, proportionally, would translate into 22 House seats and 5 Senate seats. And probably at least 10% share most of Paul's views, which would mean 44 House seats and 10 Senate seats. Yet they are alone.

The will of Congress is not necessarily the will of the American people, but only a reflection of political expediency. It takes Presidential campaigns for the people to really see some variety of viewpoints. Unfortunately, even then the mainstream media - again concerned with presentation over substance - focuses on the "race," which inevitably marginalizes candidates who aren't mesmerized by D.C. groupthink. That's why under-funded third-party and independent races have gone nowhere. And that's also why Paul's fundraising totals are so surprising. We'll see how this translates in the caucuses and primaries.

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