Anthony Trollope on governing lightly: a lesson for Obamacare architects

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Michael Barone

Myron Gananian, M.D., of Menlo Park, California, emails me in response to my Wall Street Journal opinion article “How Obamacare misreads America.” Dr. Gananian quotes from Anthony Trollope's The Duke's Children, the sixth and last in his series of political novels, the advice given in a letter by the former Liberal party Prime Minister Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, to his son Lord Silverbridge, recently elected as a Conservative member of Parliament* from a constituency whose voters are accustomed to give the Duke deference.

And I would have you always remember the purport for which there is a Parliament elected in this happy and free country. It is not that some men may shine there, that some may acquire power, or that all may plume themselves on being the elect of the nation. It often appears to me that some members of Parliament so regard their success in life — as the fellows of our colleges do too often, thinking that their fellowships were awarded for their comfort and not for the furtherance of any object as education or religion. I have known gentlemen who have felt that in becoming members of Parliament that they had achieved an object for themselves instead of thinking that they had put themselves in the way of achieving something for others. A member of Parliament should feel himself to be the servant of his country — and like every other servant, he should serve. If this be distasteful to a man he need not go into Parliament. If the harness gall him he need not wear it. But if he takes the trappings he should draw the coach. You are there as the guardian of your fellow-countrymen — that they may be safe, that they may be prosperous, that they may be well governed and lightly burdened--above all that they may be free. If you cannot feel this to be your duty, you should not be there at all.

The underlined phrase echoes (perhaps unconsciously; I read the book some years ago) the final sentence of my article, “Govern lightly if you want to govern this culturally diverse nation well.” Lord Silverbridge, as I recall, was something of a twit and didn’t take this advice. Others should.

*Silverbridge was a courtesy title belonging to the heir of the dukedom of Omnium; a real life example is the Marquis of Blandford, heir to the Duke of Marlborough. The holder is not considered a noble entitled to a seat in the House of Lords and so is eligible to serve in the House of Commons.

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