If you are a politician you should know that popular sovereignty means the people tell you what to do. You can stop telling us what the people want. It’s all too often a lie anyway, like the assurances from Democrats that the Affordable Care Act was something the American people had to have:
Second, the American public wants it. That’s a no-brainer. We’re at a time in American history when the American people want health care reform, for all the reasons that you mentioned. And it is, as you mentioned, a moral and physical imperative. There’s no doubt about that.1
Whether we wanted Obamacare or not, we got it anyway. Now we have to live with the consequences.
A lot of legislation gets passed this way. Popular sovereignty meant something in our past, but not anymore. Lawmakers convince each other that they are doing the right thing whether the public agrees or not. What does this mean for the people? It means the consent of the governed has been reduced to this:
Popular sovereignty means selling laws to those who won’t benefit.
We overhauled our entire health care system even though Democrats admitted only 15% of Americans needed to look for health coverage (see: Don’t Let Obama Trade Your Freedom for Dependence). Did the other 85%, including those who are now losing their coverage, agree that we had to have the ACA?
Government by the people doesn’t mean government for the people.
The economy of Illinois is ruined. $100 billion in accumulated pension debt was not even scratched by a long-forgotten retroactive income tax increase. In their rush to appease labor unions whose members are a minority of the state’s workers, state lawmakers just handed taxpayers a half-baked fix for ruinous public pensions while they cheered history in the making. That’s how government by the people works. You got to vote. What more do you want?
Once you trick Americans into accepting a bad bill, you can sell them the same thing all over again.
One of the reasons Americans were told we wanted to destroy our health care system with the ACA was that it would trim $1 trillion from the deficit:
And by curbing the cost of uncompensated care, and ending unwarranted subsidies, health reform reduces the deficit by over $1 trillion over the next two decades.2
Incredibly, the White House says an immigration overhaul will do the very same thing:
According to this independent report, reforming our immigration system would reduce our deficits by almost a trillion dollars over the next two decades.3
What the American people want depends on what reelection campaigns are selling.
Both parties claim to know what the people want and need. If we all want the same thing and both sides are telling the truth, why is the truth different for Republicans and Democrats?
Protests beat the will of the people any day.
It’s easy for Americans to remember the red hordes of teachers protesting for unions in Chicago, activists for immigration reform trying to articulate their demands while disrupting the lives of citizens, and lawmakers proud that they managed to get arrested in Washington rallies last October. When the time comes to decide who deserves to be made happy, who do you think Capitol Hill lawmakers will remember?
Laws the people are supposed to want hide things we don’t want to pay for.
Members of Congress may not read their bills and they probably hope we don’t pay too much attention, either. We should. It might lessen the pain when we hear about what they consider normal and proper, like the $174,000 special payment for Congressman Frank Lautenberg’s widow (see: Hard Truths Republicans Had Better Learn Now), or the pork scattered throughout the Obamacare bill. If you want to know what a new law really does, don’t listen to your representatives in Congress. Wait a few weeks. Then read the news.
The truth about popular sovereignty.
Popular sovereignty means we vote legislators into office and let them tell us what the American people want. More often than not, they will tell you that what we want is also the right thing to do. We are hearing it now as President Obama puts the screws to the country over immigration:
Just last week, we had 600 business and faith leaders who came to emphasize that this is something that is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also critical to our economy.4
We heard the same thing again as Obamacare failures were rationalized away during a presidential appearance with the faithful in Dallas, Texas:
So my main job here today is to say thank you. And as Clay has said, nothing is going to stop us from getting this done, because we’re on the right side of history. It is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do for our economy, our businesses and our families.5
That’s what popular sovereignty and the consent of the governed means in 21st century America, folks. Politicians tell us what we want and then pass laws which give us no choice but to agree.