Do we want our leaders to lead, or follow?

Warning, this is about as late-night-dorm-room-super-high-contemplation-of-the-universe as it gets for me here, but I can’t help but think about this. It’s one of those many times where I don’t have an answer, which makes it perfect for how I’ve used this site in the past. Although I’ve pondered this question before, the coverage of Senator Collins and the Kavanaugh vote has it front and center. Before I delve in, here’s the basic question: do we elect somebody because we want them to make choices for us, or do we elect somebody because we think they’ll make the choices we would make? Essentially, do we want them to lead, or do we want them to follow?

Susan Collins, the republican senator from Maine, is getting more attention than I think she wants these days. She’s likely going to vote to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, but a group has started fundraising to support a candidate who runs against her in 2020 if she votes as expected. She and Murkowski (R-Alaska) are the two most likely to vote with the democrats against Kavanaugh, but in this case, “most likely” means 99% certain than she’ll vote to confirm, rather than 99.9999999% certain. Nevertheless, Mainers for Accountable Leadership and Main People’s Alliance have started to raise money, and it seems to be getting under Collins’s skin. I doubt it’s going to have the desired effect; I think it’s going to have the opposite effect and make her even more firm in her resolve to support Kavanaugh. Either way, she’s unhappy, and called the move an “attempt at bribery.”

And this is what got me thinking. If the majority of her constituents want her to vote no on Kavanaugh, but she thinks he deserves a yes vote, what is the right thing for her to do? On the one hand, she was elected to represent her constituents. On the other hand, her constituents gave her the power to make decisions for them. We often talk about our desire for leadership. We say that we don’t want politicians making decisions based on polling data. But maybe we don’t want leaders. Maybe we do want them making decisions based on polling data. Of course, I’m sure this depends on the circumstances. If we hold a minority opinion, then we probably hate it if our representatives support the majority view, and “don’t think for themselves.” But if we hold a majority opinion, and our representative ignores that majority view to support what he or she thinks is right, then we probably feel like he or she is failing to represent us.

But what is the ideal? I honestly don’t know what it is for me. I think I like the idea of somebody who will stand up for what they think is right, independent of political pressures, but I think they are failing to serve their people if they vote in a way that is not in line with them. Of course, there are examples of majority opinions that are harmful either to others or to those who hold that position, so a representative who does what s/he thinks is best for her/his constituents, even if they are willing to vote against their own interests, might be a good thing.

Either way, my hopes that writing this down would help find some clarity have faded. I’m no closer to an answer on this than I was when I started typing a couple days ago. On the plus side, I managed to get back to it, unlike so many things I start to write and never finish.


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