Senator McCain hears from angry voters at Phoenix townhall
Senator John McCain conducted a townhall meeting in Phoenix last night and probably wishes he had stayed in Washington.
Sen. John McCain, whose endorsement of President Barack Obama's plan to launch military strikes against Syria provided the president a key Republican backer, faced vocal opponents of military action during a town hall in Arizona Thursday.
McCain has long advocated a more muscular American approach toward Syria, calling for a plan to oust President Bashar al-Assad from power. But on Thursday many people who showed up to a town hall in Phoenix said that getting more involved in the civil war would lead to unintended consequences.
"We didn't send you to make war for us. We sent you to stop the war," one man said to applause.
Another man, holding a bag of marshmallows, declared Congress was going soft on its duties to represent voters.
"This is what I think of Congress," he told McCain. "They are a bunch of marshmallows. That's what they are. That's what they've become. Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria? It's not our fight."
Obama has been pressing lawmakers this week to support his plan of limited strikes in Syria that would punish Assad's regime for an alleged chemical weapons attack in August. But some members of Congress - both Democrats and Republicans - are wary of getting involved in another conflict overseas.
One woman at McCain's town hall Thursday, who said she had an eighteen-year-old cousin in Syria, said America hadn't yet exhausted its diplomatic routes for bringing a resolution to the war.
"For me, to listen to you say there is no good option in Syria - I refuse to believe that," she said. "The good option right now is to take Saudi Arabia and Iran and force them to stop supporting the two sides in Syria. And you could do it. You can do it by diplomacy, not bombs, Sen. McCain. We cannot afford to shed more Syrian blood."
What exactly does an elected politician owe his consitutuents? It's a question that has been asked by both voters and legislators since the beginning of the republic.
Clearly, a lawmaker owes the voters his allegiance to their views. But as some of the concerns expressed by voters show, an office holder also owes the voters his best judgment. While heartfelt and sincere, does anyone really think the US could get Iran to stop supporting Assad? Or prevent the Saudis from carrying on their sectarian jihad against the Alawites? Or force the UN to do something?
McCain's response - that there are no good options in Syria - is correct. In this case, he feels his judgment is superior to that of his constituents, largely because he feels he has more information than they do to make an informed decision. So simply "doing what the voters want" is not always the correct course for an elected leader who votes his conscience rather than his interest.
It certainly doesn't make McCain right. In this case, he should listen to the collective wisdom of the voters. But the old saying "Vox Populi, Vox Dei" is not always applicable in a federal republic.