Thoughts from Jesse Goldberg: By the People?

In a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin revived the repeatedly criticized phrase "death panels" in connection with the proposed health care plan.

What concerns me most, though, is not her use of the phrase, but her next sentence: "Establishment voices dismissed that phrase, but it rang true for many Americans."

There is an implied truth-value given to the phrase based on this collective belief, leading to a bigger question: What kind of authority actually rests with "the People" in a democratic society?

The governmental structure of our country is built upon the foundation of its citizens. In order to become a part of the governing structure, one must receive the blessing of the People in the form of votes.

Essentially, then, we are granted the opportunity to hire and/or fire the members of our own government every time an election rolls around. The citizen is the boss; the citizen decides if the politician gets to keep his or her job. That is an enormous amount of power and authority.

As a result of this fundamental principle, elected officials have a responsibility to those who voted for them. You may notice how hard politicians work - at least those who get re-elected - to please their constituents.

How can this be done? The easiest way is to act according to the beliefs, requests and demands of one's constituents. Once elected, a politician will usually try their best to act in accordance with the principles of their supporters.

Often, the People tend to become dissatisfied and even angry if their employees don't do as they wish. For the politician/employee, disappointing performance can result in termination, assuming people actually exercise their right to vote and "fire" him or her.

Of course, that all applies to a politician who has already been hired. What about someone looking for a job? Well, you would have to persuade your employer through your words and actions that you are a better choice than others he or she is considering for the job.

Politicians, knowing this, may set aside their own personal beliefs during an election and portray themselves as a conglomerate of the principles most often found in the beliefs of members of his or her prospective constituency.

Now this is the point where things start to become a little fuzzy. The authority to choose a democratic government's leaders unquestionably rests with the People. Do the People have authority, however, to determine the courses of action their elected officials must take? Do elected officials have to act according to their constituents' principles?

These questions beg a more general inquiry: Do the People have the authority to decide what is right or what is true?

Some may believe that because the People grant an elected official his or her office, this means that they also decide for this official which course of action to take or what to believe about an issue. Such a belief, however, is fallacious in reasoning.

A politician's job is to do what is best for the citizens of his or her country and what is best depends not on what the People say, but on clear logic and reasoning. To declare a statement truthful solely because large quantities of people believe it to be so is a logical fallacy; otherwise the minority would always be wrong.

When it comes down to it, the People have the authority to decide who gets to be part of the government, but they do not decide what is right or truthful. Those qualities of an idea, statement, or course of action depend on the ability of the idea, statement, or action in question to be substantiated and reasoned.

Politicians have no obligation to fall in line with their constituents, nor do they have the right to claim that an idea has merit simply because it "rings true for many Americans." Nobody does. Right and wrong, truth and fallacy, depend upon the quality of reasonable support, not on the quantity of supporters.