Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Passing the Iran deal

Obama’s Iran deal is getting ready to come to a vote in Congress. While many representatives have openly voiced criticism – actually, a majority of them – the bill is expected to pass. 

Congress usually votes to approve a bill. If both houses approve, the bill is taken to the White House where the president either vetoes or signs it. However, in this case, Congress is voting to DISAPPROVE the Iran deal. If this goes through, it will still make its way to the White House, where the President would, supposedly, veto Congress’s disapproval, and it would go back to Congress to see if there would be enough votes to override the veto. This means that as long as 34 senators approve the deal (and they do, as of today), the President’s deal will stick.

Sen. Mikulski of Maryland was the decisive 34th backer. She has served for three decades in the Senate already and will be retiring next year, which is probably relevant because it means she didn’t need to fear backlash from constituents that couldn’t vote for her next term anyway. 

What do you think of this loophole? Clearly, an argument can be made that this is bad because it is effectively minority rule – especially considering how hard it was to get these 34 together. 
Relevant NPR interview question: a reporter asked Obama, “Are you entirely comfortable going forward with a historic deal knowing that most of the people's representatives are against it?” and he responded saying, “Well, what I know is, is that, unfortunately, a large portion of the Republican Party, if not a near unanimous portion of Republican representatives, are going to be opposed to anything that I do, and I have not oftentimes based that on a judgment on the merits, but have based that on their politics…and I am confident that, as we see implementation, we will see, in fact, more and more folks pull out of the immediate politics of it and judge it on the basis of whether it was the right thing to do for the country.” (Read the entire interview transcript at

Is it a politician’s job to represent our views or act in what he/she thinks is in our best interest? How much of how we elect our representatives is on the basis of how we trust them, their rationality and decision-making ability, and how much of it is dependent on how well we like the specific policies they advocate for? Does it count as democracy if they think they are representing the interests of their constituents even if those interests have never officially been voiced? Are situations like the passing of the Iran deal sometimes necessary so things can actually get done, or are they never justified? 


Janet Liu said...
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Janet Liu said...

According to Obama, the question isn't about minority rule but faction rule. Is the Federalist system to some extent encouraging the vices that their system was engineered to circumvent?

Sanjana Natraj said...

In general, people tend to vote because they believe their voice, as an American citizen, is important to help improve society for the better. They vote for certain representatives because they share similar interests and believe that these representatives would change society. So, for the case of Senator Mikulski, who doesn't have anything to lose, she backed Obama's deal and thus supported the 'minority.' Was that because she was retiring soon enough so she was virtually immune to the expected backlash of the decision or was it because she actually felt that the Iran deal was in our interests was necessary for national security? As mentioned in the interview, a majority of Congress seems to be against the deal. Since the members of Congress are supposed to represent the people, does that necessarily mean that most people are against the deal as well? I think another question would be how accurately do the members of Congress actually represent the people. This connects to our class in the sense that one of the main flaws in a representative democracy is that one person could not possibly represent all of his people's interests and opinions. I believe that this flaw in our system allows our representatives to sometimes act on their own interests, thus nearly silencing the voice of the people. If our system was designed to prevent a tyrannical majority from ruling the government, does this design come at a cost for unheard voices and ineffective government?

Langston Swiecki said...

In my opinion, the two-sided nature of the current political system stunts the voice of the people anyway, as they mainly have pick one side or the other based on which party most closely aligns with their individual beliefs or worse, conform to one of these narratives and have it shape individual belief in order to feel represented. As a result, the ability to elect a representative based on the specific policies they plan to perpetuate is pointless, either because they need to appeal to a diversity of individuals or because the stance they take, assuming it is similar to one's unique stance, is not powerful enough to get legislation passed on a national level. Thus, the masses have to put faith and advocate for those who have merit and can make rational decisions, for this is the small wiggle room allotted to the voters within this framework, and thus, ironically,the politicians elected are in a sense obligated to make their own decisions to ensure a more democratic process as opposed to blindly conforming to a broad party position that acts as a generalization of a diverse set of viewpoints. The framers did not want unlimited democracy, but rather one regulated by representation and specifically representation based on merit in order to create an effective government more resistant to the fickle nature of the people. Additionally, the Iran deal is especially misrepresented and partisan, so it beneficial to have those who are less accountable to the people to make such a lasting decision, and this goes both ways, as Charles Schumer, the leading democrat in the senate, decided to go against ratification and his party, taking a more nuanced and personal approach to the issue.

Kate Holland 1 said...
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Kate Holland 1 said...

"Is it a politician’s job to represent our views or act in what he/she thinks is in our best interest?"

Elected officials should stay faithful to their promises, but beyond that they should do what they think is best for the country.

During their campaigns, politicians express their views on the issues so that voters can evaluate whether the candidate is fit to represent them. It is the voter's job to evaluate the politician based on (I) the substance of the politicians views and (II) the judgment of the politician for decisions that will be made in the future that can not be anticipated(ie. Could he/she be expected to use sound logic when making decisions or is he/she just parroting the opinions of someone else? Can he/she make good decisions in times of crisis?). In practice, this is not always the case, as heart- warming photo-ops can sometimes take the place of substance, but people still expect politicians to hold similar views and be seen as good decision makers (For a good example of a politician appealing to the dynamic of sound judgment, see Hillary Clinton's Ad for the 2008 primary.
link: In the ad, she challenges Obama's ability of sound judgment during crises by playing on voters' fears of his lack of experience.)
Thus, it is a politician's duty to let voters make an informed choice by clearly stating their views before the election. Once elected, a politician must stick to the views, principles, and judgment for which he or she was elected. This means sticking to specific promises made (eg. the ironic "Read my lips: no new taxes."-- Bush Sr.), and applying the politician's judgment to specific issues that the politician did not make any promises on (eg. No one could have anticipated 9/11 before W. Bush's election, so he had to use his own judgment, which was naturally guided by the principles for which he was elected. ...although the quality of that judgment is up to debate after the war in Iraq.)

This gets back to Madison's argument in the Federalist papers that any of the ill- advised opinions of the general public will be filtered through representatives (who, usually, are more elite and more educated than the average citizen is). Also, the average citizen does not have the time to research policies enough to reach the level of depth of representatives immersed in Washington, D.C. Although it is not always played out this way in practice, the political elite have successfully discouraged the fruition of misguided popular ideas.
One example that comes to mind is the Briggs Initiative in California back in the 1970’s, which was a ballot proposition to allow teachers to be fired for being gay or for “promoting homosexuality.” Initially, a vast majority of California voters supported it, but due largely to calls for its defeat by the political elite (including Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Jerry Brown), the public tide turned dramatically and the initiative was defeated. Although it was not a case of representatives voting against the will his/ her constituents, it was an example of an arguably more politically risking move-- arguing against the passage of an initiative widely favored by his/ her constituents for the sake of benefit to the public.

In conclusion, when politicians prioritize elections by bending to the whims of the public over their own judgment of what is best, we end up with inconsistent policies like tax cuts paired with spending increases, since everyone wants to pay less in taxes and receive more in benefits.