Elected representative vs direct democracy

Senator Mike Gravel
I want to explain two things about an elected official. And, and it’s very important in my mind to understanding the difference between democracy in a direct sense and representative government. When I stand for election, I turn to my constituency—and you’ve heard these speeches—and vote for me, I’m going to help you. We’re going to, we’re going to do great things for this community. I’m going to get some money. We’re going to build some roads. We’re going to get a better airport. Chamber of Commerce is there. All the growth people are just applauding you, carrying you down the street. And you get elected. What do you do?

That’s the first thing you do is you go back and you try to get into the larder and get the money and come back and give it to your people. Five hundred and thirty five human beings have no other mission but to do that. So what are they doing? I’m bribing you. I’m saying, "Vote for me and I’ll get you more money than you can get from that other guy." I don’t care if you’re Newt Gingrich or Jesse Helms or Daschle, that’s the game that’s played. It’s a bribery game. And I get elected because I bring home the bacon. I don’t care where I take it from.

It’s no coincidence that Alaska has [Editor: 1 word unclear] five times more federal dollars per capita than anybody else in the United States. Because we have two Senators that got the senority to get chairmanships, and in the House, the same thing. Small states learned that senority is where it’s at. And I have, and I got to tell you, I haven’t been there. I have no answer to senority. I don’t know a better way to, to apportion power in the Congress. Otherwise it would be an absolute bloodbath every two years. And it is a little bit. But by and large, senority works. But it’s one of the generic pitfalls of representative government.

Now, that’s the bribery issue. But now here’s really to understand the difference between the People addressing themselves to the public interest and the government addressing itself. When I stand for election, and now I go have to vote, the first thing that crops into any elected official’s mind in making a decision, "How does this affect me? How does it affect my job? I get a paycheck if I can. If I’m, even if I’m a millionaire, how does it affect my staying here?" So regardless if the issue is good or bad, the first barrier to a decision is how does it affect me. So if I have to vote wrong to protect me, I do it. Don’t ever question that.

Secondly, there’s another barrier. Where did I get the money to get here? So if I’ve got some friends that are affected by legislation and I don’t particularly, it, you know, I hold my nose and vote on it, I take care of my friends. Because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. And they’re the first at the door. I, the best, the best kind of people who buy politicians always come in and say, "Here’s the money. I’ll never ask you for a thing." That’s the code word: "I’ll never ask you for a thing." If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. So that’s the second barrier to adjusting to public service, the public interest.

The third barrier is, I go to a caucus. And there’s peer group pressure. And I got to tell you, that’s pretty interesting because if you’re in the club, you go along. If you’re out of, if you’re out of the club, you’re a maverick and you suffer the consequences of being a maverick. And the only defense you have, which is the defense I used, "You mess with me and I’ll filibuster." And I did. And, and, I did it, I did a few things couple times, nobody ever messed with me again. And, you just, it’s, it’s a tough, tough game. And politics, make no mistake about it, is physical. And so that’s the second barrier [Editor: Probably meant the third barrier.]

Now after that, I got my own ideology that boxes me in. And so that’s the fourth barrier. Now I’m free to attend to the public interest. That’s the person who holds the agency that you elect to public office.

Now when you empower the power to legislate, are there any barriers? There are none. They vote their self-interest because they are the public interest.

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