National interest is a concept that is very difficult to define. Even legislators have failed to reach a consensus on its definition. Despite this, national interest remains to be one of the most commonly used terms in the political arena. Politicians have commonly used it as the basis the in seeking political support for a particular policy, most especially in relation to a proposed foreign policy (Iain McLean & Alistair McMillan, 2003, p.1).
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It is as if the mere use of the words “national interest” in relation to a proposed foreign policy suffices to silence those who object to it. Acceptance of a proposed policy simply because it is in the best interest of the nation is not only irresponsible but also potentially disastrous for any country (Zainal Aznam Yusof, 2005, p.1).
A point of concern is the lack of standard in determining what is really best for national interest. How can the public know what is best for their nation when the legislators themselves are in disagreement over the definition of national interest? National interest, until now, is an abstract concept. To accept a policy simply because it is in accordance with national interest will require that it be specifically defined. The concept of National Interest should be made more specific such as the determination of the identities of the parties who will be benefited by the policy, the extent of the benefits the interested parties shall enjoy, and the parties who will not be benefited (this is in accordance with the reality that not all persons/interest groups will be benefited by a proposed policy).
It is suggested that a comparative study must be conducted before a proposed policy is adopted. The legislators proposing the policy and arguing that the same will promote national interest must initially conduct public information campaigns. The public must be made a part of this policy. National interest is simply the interest of the nation which is composed of individual citizens. While it is true that the interest of the nation is distinct and separate from the interest of the citizens, ultimately the benefit accruing to the nation will benefit the citizens. As such, the public must be made aware and be called upon to participate in the debate and discussion of a proposed policy.
Public consultation, hearings, and debates must also be conducted. The public must be encouraged to participate so that the policy makers may know the pros and cons of a proposed policy from the point of view of the citizens. It may be that the legislator, in proposing the policy, is speaking from his limited and restricted point of view. Inviting the public to participate in the debate will help in achieving a comprehensive study of the proposed policy.
The public consultation must be composed not only of a homogeneous group of people with similar interests. Instead, public consultations and hearings must include different groups with conflicting and competing interests to ensure that the legislators will have a comprehensive idea of the pros and cons of the proposed policy. In this public hearing, active participation of the different groups is encouraged.
Holding public hearings and consultation does not mean that the legislator aims to please the interest of the all the different groups. The legislator shall undertake to evaluate the inputs of those who participated. A study will be made to compare the important points raised during the consultations. The interest of the groups in favor will be compared to those against a proposed policy. In the end, what is important is the promotion of national interest and not just the interest of a particular group. It suffices that everybody was heard and that their suggestions were taken into account in the formulation of the proposed policy.
Representative or Indirect Democracy is a system of government where the people govern themselves indirectly through a set of representatives which they choose in a political process called the election. It is contra-distinguished from the term pure or direct democracy which is a system of government where the people govern themselves directly by proposing and enacting specific laws. It is however not pragmatic to think of a political system as a representative democracy or as a pure democracy since the majority of the nations nowadays adopt a combination of these two concepts.
One element of a representative democracy is that emphasizes on the rule of rigid and strict law. The United States which is a representative democracy is a government of laws and not of men. This is an affirmation that no one man, regardless of his high social stature or public position, is above the law. All officers of the government from the highest to the lowest are considered mere creatures of the law who are bound to obey it. In contrast, the monarchy is a political system in which the absolute power is absolutely or nominally lodged in an individual who is the head of state. The King or Queen is considered the supreme authority in a Monarchy who is responsible for making the law and implementing it. However, in the contemporary society, majority of the nations have shifted to a constitutional monarchy where a constitution limits the powers of the Monarch and the Monarchy acts as the Head of State with no power to make or pass legislations.
Another element is the principle of sovereignty and the rule of the majority. It is the essence of every democratic government that the people are possessors of sovereign power and the source of all government authority. They exercise their sovereign power by means of an election by virtue of which the people choose the candidates for public office who are best suited to govern them. Thus, candidates for public office must be able to convince the majority that they are the best candidate for the position. In contrast, the Oligarchy is a form of government where the political power rests with a small segment of society. They are not elected or chosen by the people. Oftentimes, they try to remain in power through their successors. In this system of government, the most powerful could either the person who has the most money or who has military strength.
The third element in a representative democracy is the separation of powers. It is the essence of every representative democracy that the three main powers of government are constitutionally divided into the different departments: the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the Executive. These three branches of government are co-equal branches which are supreme within their own sphere of responsibility. The other branches are constitutionally prohibited from encroaching upon the functions of another. On the other hand, a dictatorship is a form of government where one person or a small group of persons possesses absolute power without limitations. The dictator has the power to make the laws, to interpret the laws and also to decide any issues or controversies. Because there is no means by which the powers of the dictator can be checked, dictators have often committed abuse and corruption against his constituents. Because this system often leads to abuse in the hands of a corrupt leader, may people have opposed these leaders leading to the collapse of dictatorships? This has happened in Estonia, Latvia Lithuania, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Mali, Bolivia and the Philippines (Gene Sharp, 2002, p.1).
Policy making plays a crucial role in a country’s social, economic, and political life. It is defined as the process by which governments translate their political vision into effective programs and actions that can deliver outcomes. It is when the leader attempts to turn their ideas into reality to effect changes in the real world. Taking this into account, the promotion of good practice in policy making is fundamental to the delivery of quality outcomes for citizens and to the realization of reform agenda.
While the elected leaders are the ones directly involved in policy making, there are indirect factors that play an important role in policy making. One of these indirect actors is the individual citizens (“Policy-Making Process, 2007, p.1). Strictly speaking, they are the ones who want the most services from their leaders. In this time of economic crisis, the people will look to their leaders for swift and effective changes in policies. Thus, once mobilized the citizens can play a crucial role in the not only in the implementation of policies but even in campaigning and ensuring public awareness of certain issues that need to be addressed.
Other indirect actors are the public interest groups. Public interest groups are those that exist for the purpose of protecting their own interest. They are considered more powerful and more effective because they have the numbers, the political machinery, the funds and the information. While public interest groups do not implement the policies, they are capable of exerting pressure on elected officials in passing laws that will promote their interest. For example, victim rights groups have been very instrumental in the passage of Megan’s Law which provides for registration of sex offenders in a government database.
The mass media is also a powerful indirect actor that plays an important role in policy making. The mass media may include the newspapers, radio, television, and movies. They help raise the awareness of the people on pressing issues in the society who may respond by proposing certain policies to their elected representatives. The mass media also helps in giving enough media coverage to a particular proposed policy or agenda.
Recently, President Obama removed the restriction on US government funding for groups that provide abortion services. This is an indication that unlike his predecessor, President’s social policy on abortion is to make the abortion issue less about morality and politics but more on extending social services to those in need. At this early, opponents of abortion groups have started to criticize President Obama for his actions. While President Obama’s decision was contested and criticized that it will only lead to more pregnancies, it is argued however that granting funding to those that provide abortion services will not lead to a slippery slope. In fact, it will pave the way for better and safer abortion services for pregnant women.
President Obama announced his economic policy in his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan which he said will jumpstart the economy, create jobs and lead to growth. He revealed that he intends to give priority efforts to produce sustainable, renewable and alternative energy (“Remarks of President-Elect Barack Obama As Prepared for Delivery American Recovery and Reinvestment”, 2009. p.1). He believes that shift to alternative energy by building solar panels and wind turbines, constructing fuel-efficient cars and developing new energy technologies will provide direct benefits of helping create more jobs and savings and indirect benefits in terms of cleaner and safer planet. A closer look at this economic policy reveals that this is the opportune time to look for ways to reduce our dependence on oil and gas. This is the right time to introduce serious economic policy changes while at the same time addressing the present environmental problems.
The current US policy on domestic security is reflected in the conduct of surveillance by the NSA, FBI and other government agencies. Pursuant to the authority given under the USA Patriot Act, these government agencies have issued National Security Letters to different phone companies, internet providers, banks, and credit card companies. These letters demand from these companies information about their client’s phone records, electronic communications, bank accounts and credit card bills without a warrant issued by the court (Neil Conan, 2007, p.2). While it is true that the FBI has been conducting these surveillance operations even before the 9/11 attack, the NSLs exponentially increased after the 9/11 attack from 8,500 back in 2000 to 147,000 between 2003 and 2005 (Alexandra Marks, 2007, p.3). These aggressive surveillance operations have generated criticisms from various citizens and interest groups.
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