Rick Santorum’s ‘delegate model’ of representation

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Former Sen. Rick Santorum has been employing an interesting argument to explain some of his not-so-conservative votes in the U.S. Senate. His argument is essentially this: He was just representing the views of the citizens of Pennsylvania.

For example, responding to Chris Wallace’s question about voting against a national right to work law on “Fox News Sunday,” Santorum said:

“…you need to remember, I was from the state of Pennsylvania. [The] State of Pennsylvania does not have a right to work law. The state legislature and our governor for a long time had rules in place that were inconsistent with right to work.

And I wasn’t, as United States senator, representing the states of Pennsylvania going to go down and by federal vote change the law on the state. I believe the state has the right. If they want a union dues requirement, that the state should be able to do that.

As a president, I have a very different point of view. I have already signed a letter and sent it to the national right to work that I would sign a national right to work bill because now, I’m no longer representing that state.

… Again, as a president, I would have a different view. But I did represent a constituency and one of the things I think is important is to listen and respect the rights of my state.”

(Emphasis mine.)

Note: Santorum is clearly not making a federalist argument — or a “state’s rights” argument — for if he were, his position would not be contingent on whether he were a senator or president. (If one philosophically believes that states have the right to enact their own labor laws, why should being elected president change that position?)

Though he cloaks his argument as a matter of state’s rights, Santorum is actually advocating that representatives are elected — not to pursue their own philosophy or beliefs — but to represent the values of the citizens who sent them there. This is called the delegate model of representation.

In a speech to the electors at Bristol, November 3, 1774, Edmund Burke (who is said to be the father of both models of representation), made the case for for the Trustee model:

… parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect.

(Emphasis mine.)

My take: Leaders are ostensibly more enlightened and knowledgeable than the citizenry, and thus, may sometimes have to make unpopular decisions.

Santorum’s position is cynical. As he confessed during last night’s GOP debate,

If you look at who voted for the right-to-work bill in the Congress, those who came from right-to-work states voted for it. Those who came from non-right-to-work states represented their states. I wasn’t going to vote in Washington, D.C., to change the law in my state.

This may be a lot of things, but it is not political courage. One can assume that Santorum would never have so cavalierly bent to the will of the Pennsylvania masses on the issues for which he truly cares. Does anyone believe Santorum would have held his nose and meekly represented Pennsylvanians if the overwhelming majority of them decided they liked Roe vs. Wade?

Note: This piece has been updated.

Matt K. Lewis