By Chet Yarbrough
The Future of Freedom
By Fareed Zakaria
Narrated by Ned Schmidtke
Fareed Zakaria published “The Future of Freedom” in 2003; a lot has happened since then. This Indian born American, a Yale and Harvard educated government policy wonk, has written a fascinating treatise on a glaring weakness of democracy that continues to resonate in 2018.
Zakaria notes that an unexpected consequence of sunshine, sunset, and open meetings laws change the way elected officials represent their constituency. Zakaria implies the “swamp” in Washington D.C. is created by an incorrect interpretation of the Republic outlined in the American Constitution.
Zakaria argues lobbying and population poling have replaced individual conscience in the American electorate. His argument is that the consequence of lost individual judgment is confused, and conflicted legislation. Zakaria suggests frequent political grid lock is exacerbated by lobbyists who do not represent the public at large. He argues population poling (surveys of constituent interests), and industrial lobbyists distort public interest.
Zakaria’s argument reinforces a belief outlined by David Riesman in “The Lonely Crowd” in 1950. Riesman, a Harvard educated sociologist, conducted a study that suggests Americans are becoming more “other directed” rather than “inner directed”. His point is that Americans are more concerned about what other people think than what individuals think for themselves.
Elected officials are “Mad Men & women” manufacturing public interests created by lobbyists. Elected officials sell lobbyist’ ideas as though they are their own opinions.
Zakaria implies surveys of the public are designed and conducted by lobbyists and special interests who hire pollsters with motives to advance private interests rather than public good. The lobbyist appeal is “other directed”. Zakaria infers it is not what the “I” (elected representative) thinks, it is what the “other” (lobbyist or special interest) sells. Public interest is unrepresented. It is distorted by private interest being sold by falsely characterized political representatives–the men and women who hold political office.
Zakaria suggests a “Mad Men” advertizing process invades 20th and 21st century American politics. Elected officials are not “inner directed” and representing what they think is right but what others think is right. Poling becomes a primary source for decisions. Elected officials are influenced by interest groups, not by any clear reflection of their constituency or the American public.
In Zakaria’s reality, it is not possible to capsulize opinion of the American public. Zakaria is saying original framers of the Constitution focused on a Republic that separated church and state and focused on freedom of choice based on the conscience of elected officials. Elected officials were meant to vote for what they, as representatives of a State and nation, believed. Zakaria is saying too many elected officials do not vote what they believe but vote what special interests believe.
The truth, consequence, and viciousness of this cycle of public-interest-deceit is: 1) there is no way of accurately knowing what the public believes and 2) being re-elected becomes more important than voting for what one believes is right. Zakaria suggests the framers of the constitution expected elected representatives to vote their individual conscience based on being popularly elected. He argues that lobbyists and a minority of Americans falsely define public interest and unduly influence representative’ decisions.
This slippery slope is made slipperier by lobbyists who are interested in perpetuating their high paying jobs. Lobbyists push for 1 year laws with sunset provisions so they can be “helpful lobbyists” next year to get similar legislation passed. Zakaria infers sunset laws have little to do with public interest.
The goal of lobbyists and their employers is to push elected officials to vote for legislation that benefits their private interests. Zakaria’s point is that elected officials do not base legislative decisions on their conscience as representatives of their public constituency. Representatives create legislation and vote based on what lobbyists convince them is in the public interest. Zakaria suggests in today’s American government “public” interest is narrowly defined by lobbyist, and a minority that pays for government access and something to gain.
A part of Zakaria’s argument is that America is increasingly dis-respected by many outside countries, but more importantly, a dis-respected democracy by a growing number of voters in its own population. (One could argue that is why America elected a non-politician to head its government.)
Zakaria is not saying democracy is not the best form of government in the world, but today’s democracy fails to operate as a Republic. He believes it is in danger of dissolving into a chaos of unpredictability and dysfunction.
Zakaria implies freedom is diminished by political representatives that fail to vote their conscience. Public interest is a fiction manufactured by lobbyists working for special interests.