Letter: Guidance From a Conservative

To the Editor:

As I write these words on Monday, Sept. 30, Republican members of Congress are bent on shutting down the government rather than giving up on their battle to abort the Affordable Care Act.

Representing congressional districts that have been largely gerrymandered for the maximum political safety of Republican candidates, they are driven by just one motive: to be re-elected. To that end, they feel bound to serve the deplorably shortsighted wishes of their constituents. They do not seem to realize that besides jeopardizing the welfare of the country as a whole, they are abandoning a principle of political conduct long ago enunciated by one of the greatest conservatives of all time, Edmund Burke. Addressing the voters of Bristol, England, on Nov. 3, 1774, Burke declared that the duty of a representative is “to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions” to the interests of his constituents “and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.”

But Burke adds a crucial qualification: “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

We are now witnessing precisely this kind of betrayal.

James Heffernan