Friday, June 11, 2004

Power to the People

Clinton is famous for using polls to help him develop policies, and the conservative dislike of his approach is equally well-known. But I don't understand their objections.

First, why are the president's convictions necessarily superior to my own? Don't Clinton's polls tell us something reassuring about the man's humility? Rather than arrogantly trusting only himself, he checked to see what other people thought and wanted. That's admirable, and unusual in a man of power.

Second, if the majority of the people in this country want something - be it gays in the military, or a radical tax cut - isn't the president morally obligated to deliver it? What's the president's authority for ignoring the will of the people, if it is clearly expressed in an instrument like a statistically valid poll?

Certainly, all questions aren't equal. No one would expect the president to poll issues that can only be decided by military, economic, or medical experts, and indeed Clinton never put these sort of questions to the public. But if the question is purely one of opinion or if, as in the case of tax cuts, or gays in the military, the experts are divided, what better way to settle the question than a poll?

Conservatives claim to oppose elitism. On matters like abortion they insist the people must be heard, and that judges - regardless of their expertise - have no right to oppose the public mood. Wasn't Clinton's polling a clear acknowledgment of this theory? Don't polls recognize our right to shape our own destinies, and reject elitism?