Wednesday, 17 March 2004

Sincerity and symbolism in legislator behavior

Both Steven Taylor and Eric Lindholm note that John Kerry was on both sides of the supplemental appropriations bill for Iraqi and Afghan reconstruction. In particular, Eric notes this rather curious position by Kerry:

Mr. Kerry has indicated that he might have voted [in favor of final passage of the bill] had his vote been decisive.

Now, it is arguably rational for voters to behave differently when their vote is decisive (or pivotal) than when it isn’t; voting is both a symbolic act and part of a decision-making process. The normative question is: given that most votes are not inherently pivotal, should citizens nonetheless expect sincere voting behavior from their representatives, rather than the symbolic behavior that Kerry essentially admits he demonstrated? Given that representatives are supposed to be accountable for their votes—hence the use of non-secret ballots—my gut feeling is that citizens should expect sincere voting by the legislators they are represented by, whether we’re discussing procedural motions or votes on final passage.

Sunday, 21 March 2004

Blame Howard!

Remember John Kerry’s flip-flop on the Iraq-Afghanistan reconstruction bill? As Steven Taylor notes today, it apparently came about due to Kerry trying to counter Howard Dean’s strident anti-war rhetoric. Not that this absolves Kerry, of course, as Steven aptly points out:

Of course, in reality, it is really Kerry’s own fault for seeking political advantage when he should have been voting his own conscience. And, indeed, this is one of Kerry’s main political liabilities: it is difficult to ascertain exactly what his political conscience is.

As I pointed out in a comment at Half the Sins of Mankind, Kerry was in a bit of a bad position—which, of course, was the point of the roll-call; he could vote aye and catch hell from Dean then, or vote no and possibly catch hell from Bush later on (assuming he survived long enough to gain the nomination—which, at the time, seemed quite unlikely). He chose the latter option—better to live to fight another day, I suppose.