Yes, if change means that their personal well being would improve. No, if they would need change what they do or think. In his presidential campaign, now President Elect, was very careful in talking about change in very generic terms, so every potential voter could see it as some good that would be delivered to them on a gold plate. In the acceptance speech Mr. Obama mentioned that sometimes he might disagree with people who elected him. Since then, “difficult decisions” become a phrase present in almost every his public statement.
Straight shooters, like Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, telling voters bluntly, how it is, had no chance; since voters elect politicians who tell them what they want to hear. Theoretically, in a democratic system, it is supposed to be this way. Elected politicians should represent the voice of their constituents. Ideally, someone who shares the opinions of the majority should run and win the election. It is simpler in a small community; should we build a new library or rebuild the old one? Even if the wrong decision is made, evidence of it is almost immediately visible to voters, and they can take corrective action in the next election.
On a larger scale, things become more complicated. Is NAFTA good or bad? If we should change it, how? Experts disagree, not to mention the millions of people affected by this treaty. Nevertheless, at the ballot box voters make uneducated guesses on taxes, trade, immigration, wars, social policies and many other national issues. Theoretically, in an open society the public has access to all the essential information. These days, for a motivated voter, there is unparalleled access to data and analysis on any subject. Yet it is frightening to see how poorly informed most people are.
In democracy the majority rules, and there is an underlying assumption that the majority is right. What if the majority is wrong? The Prohibition proves that this is possible. What if the majority is spilt? In the U.S., issues like health care, education, or immigration have persisted unresolved for decades. Opinion polls tell us that the majority agrees on some aspects of the issue, but there is a different majority for every aspect. Thus, none of the proposed complex solutions, requiring consensus on all the major aspects of a given issue, can pass the legislature.
What can or should a decent politician do when seeing that the majority is disoriented or, worse yet, leaning toward a bad choice? In an ideal world, an aspiring politician would research the problem, formulate a solution, and then try to persuade the public of its merit. This is the concept of leadership. Unfortunately, it means standing in front of voters and telling them that they ought to change what they do or think. Is this a way to get elected? Obama’s chances of getting elected were hurt when he told some Americans that they should not cling to guns and religion; indirectly implying that they should use their brains more.
The rule of the majority is an absolute tyranny. One can question the powers of a dictator or a minority government; but there is no claim or legacy to undermine the voice of the majority. Maybe some ostracized intellectuals can lament that stupidity, even if supported by the majority, is still stupidity only. Old Tocqueville, as usual, said it best “In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them”.
As long as the nation’s affairs are not in a dire state, the majority will stick to its preconceived notions and will be not receptive to change. Ironically, the word “change” is gracing banners nowadays as Americans see the need for change in Washington. Do Americans see a need for Americans to change?
Americans hold themselves and their nation in high esteem, and they seek confirmation of both from their leaders. As a result, they tend not to seek out real leaders, but prefer politicians who put a finger to the wind and echo populist expectations.
Once in Washington and facing real issues, politicians have to be reasonable, and act otherwise than promised. This only reinforces the voters in obviously erroneous and fruitless thinking that a change is needed in Washington. America still waits for a leader, who would dare to tell Americans that majority of them are wrong and they need to change. Will it be Barack Obama?
A version of this text was published by Huffington Post