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Fat Cat Politicians

Some people believe they can only be represented by individuals resembling themselves. This would require that to be representative, Congress should contain about 50% women and 18% Hispanic people. Black members should, they think, comprise about 12%, which in the Senate would be 12 and in the House 52.

The ideal example of representation in this sense was the Supreme Soviet, officially the Soviet Union's legislature. It had just the "right" number of men, women, Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, etc. It had nicely proportional numbers of young people, middle aged and geezers. 

Unfortunately, Soviet elections offered voters only one candidate — handpicked by the Communist Party — for each office. Also, the Supreme Soviet did not legislate. It merely rubber stamped policies determined by the Communist Party's unelected leaders. 

Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) famously pointed out  that England's queen was what he called only a "dignified" official, wielding no political power. By contrast, the Cabinet was an "efficient" power, making actual governing decisions.

In Bagehot's sense, the Supreme Soviet was "dignified," while the "efficient" body was the nearly all-male Communist Party Politburo.

If we employ a different, and I would argue more reasonable, definition of "representative" — namely "people chosen in competitive elections by a broad spectrum of voters to act for them" — then American legislatures are indeed representative. 

It might be even better to arrange things so leaders who aren't rich could act as if they were when political courage is needed.

Rich people are a tiny minority of the population, so if we want legislatures that are representative in the Soviet "shared characteristics" sense there could be only a few rich politicians in them.

We already have more than a few. But we actually need more rich politicians. 

Democracy assumes that leaders should be sensitive to public opinion. But leaders spend a lot of time thinking about public policy.

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They may therefore sometimes understand what policies would be best for their voters better than the voters — who have other important things to think about — themselves do. 

These leaders can try to help voters understand where their interests truly lie. But they are not always successful in this endeavor. 

There may therefore be times when good leaders should do what they understand to be the right thing even if it will rile up voters so much that they will lose the next election. 

This is where being rich, not necessarily "filthy rich," but having enough money, or the ability to earn money in the private sector, would be helpful.

A politician whose status, income, self-esteem and ability to live well depend on continuing to win elections will be less likely to do the right thing when it is going to be unpopular. We should not expect such politicians to be "profiles in courage."

Two examples of rich leaders recently willing to risk political suicide will illustrate my point. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, rich by anybody's standards, voted to convict Donald Trump at his second impeachment trial in the Senate. 

In the House of Representatives, Peter Meijer, R-Mich., was one of only 10 Republicans voting to impeach the president, acknowledging that it was "politically risky." Like Romney, Meijer will not risk starvation if he is not re-elected, since his family has a large chain of supermarkets. 

One need not argue that Romney and Meijer were correct in their assessment of Trump's culpability for January 6, but clearly their votes based on that assessment were examples of bravery and their financial security allowed them to vote their conscience. 

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Recent history suggests that being rich does not guarantee that one will be a good leader. But leaders who are rich will be freer to follow their best judgment even if it will make them unpopular.

Of course, rich leaders might not always understand the problems afflicting more average people. So it might be even better to arrange things so leaders who aren't rich could act as if they were when political courage is needed.

Paul F. deLespinasse