Against Linguistic Talismans
Earlier today, Marc noted the “neat little trick” whereby “moderates” and those to their left claim to tolerate everybody except the intolerant and then define as intolerant anybody with whom they disagree. To my ear, there’s something similar in the recently vogue usage of the term “mandate,” as in:
“The election did show that there’s a mandate to expand embryonic stem cell research,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
Putting aside the issue of embryonic stem cell research, what DeGette’s statement highlights is the evolution of “mandate” into a linguistic proof of legitimacy — the implication being that a proven mandate requires our representatives to pursue, or not pursue, a particular policy. Thus, despite the inevitable ambiguity of election results, one side insists that representatives must support a particular cause, or the president must not do as he sees fit when it comes to national security. The side that wins is that which is able to declare most loudly and frequently the yea or nay on a mandate.
Our system would be more effective, I’d say, if representatives did whatever they felt to be right and then faced the consequences, or reaped the benefits, with voters in the next election. Of course, it would also be more effective if the average voter were sufficiently well informed to have his or her own preferred policies and, therewith, a certain immunity to code-word talismans.