Corporate board members, financial advisers, and other professionals are bound by a principle called "fiduciary duty," in which they are required to act in the best interests of the clients or companies they are serving.
As an American citizen, I would think--or at least hope--that elected government representatives would be bound by a similar principle--that they would put the country's interests firsts, even if those interests conflicted with their personal desire to gain more power or get re-elected.
My colleague Dan Gross, however, who has covered Washington for two decades, thinks that this principle--if it ever existed--has been thrown out the window.
Basically, Dan argues, Republicans are doing everything they can to ensure that the economy remains a mess when it comes time for the 2012 election. The Republican hope here, Dan explains, is that Americans will vote with their wallets in 2012--and, in so doing, vote more Democrats out of office.
Now, there's no question that voters do vote with their wallets: The deteriorating economy in 2008 helped President Obama get elected. And there's nothing wrong with stumping for policies that you honestly believe will help the country over the long term, even if you think they will cause some short-term pain.
But there's a big difference between that and intentionally doing things that will sabotage the economy over the next 12 months just to influence the next election.
If this is actually what some Republicans are doing, Americans of both parties should be outraged. The first loyalty of any elected representative should be acting in the best interests of the country., and advocating policies that you know will hurt the country--or stonewalling ones that will help it--is a gross dereliction of professional and civic responsibility.
There should not have to be a legal principle like "fiduciary duty" that requires legislators to act in the best interests of the country. But if Dan's right, it sounds like there may need to be.