Monday, May 10, 2010

The 17th Amendment. I Kinda Like It

I’m generally ambivalent to the Tea Party, but one plank on their platform really has me scratching my head: They want a repeal of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

This is the amendment, enacted in 1913, that allows we common, unwashed masses to directly elect our U.S. Senators. Prior to the amendment, senators were typically selected by state legislatures or the governor, though in the run-up to the ratification, two-thirds of the states had switched to directly electing its senators.

Why is this such a bad idea?

William Borah – we named Idaho’s tallest peak after him – thought directly electing senators was a good idea, and co-sponsored the bill to enact the amendment, after he was popularly elected to represent Idaho in the Senate. For trivia nuts: Idaho was the 12th state out of 36 to ratify the amendment.)

So asks Randy Stapilus at the Riddenbaugh Press:
Why would the Tea Party, which likes to present itself as a movement which takes power away from politicians to give it to “the people,” be so enamored of this idea that specifically and clearly does the opposite?
His analysis (and I think it’s apt) on who would benefit from a repeal:
Presumably, the same people who tended to benefit way back then: Those who have the big bucks to corrupt state legislators with, and to buy Senate seats – which often is exactly what happened in the 19th century.
Isn’t this what Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich famously got in trouble for a year ago? And New York Governor David Patterson? Selling a Senate seat, or at least trying to hand it over to political cronies? I mean, yeah, sometimes in the electoral process the guy with the most money effectively buys a Senate seat through campaigning, but at least we commoners get a chance at the voting booth to chime in on whom we thought had the best ad campaign and who looks best in a suit and who best reflects our own political values, even if they’re hair-brained. Taking away that right and handing it off to a small, select group of twits we elected for the very same reasons we’d like to elect senators doesn’t make a lot of sense – we don’t like them much, after all, do we? Yeah, those crazy state legislators, kissing babies while they’re stealing their lollipops. Oh yeah. Let’s give the bums more power. That’s a great idea.

The Tea Party argument that this amendment, along with the 16th, (say it with me: The Income Tax Amendment [cue thunder and lightning, screams of anguish]) have led to unprecedented power being held by the U.S. Congress doesn’t hold much bathwater. How is the power structure going to be rattled if senators are appointed by state legislatures, versus being popularly elected? Seems to me that power achieved by one method or the other is still power indeed, but at least the power achieved through popular election is power that can be removed by the same kind of popular election, rather than through backdoor shenanigans.

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