Saletan discusses some of the problems with relying on polls to dictate policy (e.g., fickleness, expressing what is really ambivalence with a forced answer at a given moment). I'd like to add that polling is hardly an exact science. For that matter, it is not clear how we could make it such. Remember the New Hampshire primary? Relying on Gallup to dictate policy is not only wrong-headed in a representative democracy, it could well be inaccurate.
Using the Massachusetts vote as an indicator of popular will suffers from being a poll of that makes up a small percentage of our entire country, whose residents have guaranteed health care.
There is a reason we don't put out every piece of legislation as a referendum. No person whose job doesn't involve policy can be informed enough about policy to make the right decision. Legislators are supposed to have expertise in policy, greater expertise than the majority of their constituents. There is nothing condescending to the great and good American people to admit they have not had time to learn the ins and outs of health care and its potential ramifications for their interests. There is nothing condescending in asking anyone to put greater weight on expert opinion in a host of professions: doctors, professors, mechanics, landscapers, scientists. (Greater weight is, of course, not the entire weight.)
And Saletan ends with a point that has completely dumbfounded me recently - why no one is talking about the morality of the legislators' votes.
Maybe passing the health care bill will bring on a Republican tsunami. Maybe it will create a generation of Democrats who revere Obama the way their great-grandparents revered FDR. Maybe you'll be back in Congress next year. Maybe you won't. Either way, this is too big a vote to cast on the basis of politics. Every so often, a bill comes along that's bigger than anything your predecessor got to touch. You're the lucky bastard who had your seat in 2010, when that bill reached the floor. And here you are, worrying about your career, when the purpose of your career is staring you in the face.I have heard everyone - left, right, pundits, other legislators - talk very cooly about whether or not it is in the career interest of certain legislators to vote one way or another. Almost none then follow up with a comment about how one person's career path should not decide the fate of millions! Lives are in their hands, and we talk as if it is okay for them to be dithering about re-election. Not only is one person's job small potatoes in this context, most legislators are perfectly capable of getting private sector jobs when voted out of office. With legislation as potentially impactful as this, one tends to have a strong opinion on whether it should or should not be done. And the impact of it will be so broad that it must outweigh the value of any single person's career. Anytime the idea of voting in one's career interest is brought up, it should immediately be followed by a mention of just how slimy that would be. Perhaps in some corner of their black shriveled hearts where once was some moral dimension to their public service, a legislator might respond.