Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Tory Tendencies

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tory Tendencies

George Will wants to make the Senate more like the House of Lords. He thinks the Senate would be better served if it could just sidestep those annoying voters and get themselves appointed by state legislatures. That, of course, is how the Constitution originally set up the selection of senators, but in the 220 years since the Constitution was ratified, it has become progressively more and more inclusive. African-American men were made citizens and granted the vote after the Civil War. Women were allowed to vote in 1920. And senators became subject to popular vote in 1913. But George Will thinks we should go back:

[Senator Russ] Feingold says that mandating election of replacement senators is necessary to make the Senate as "responsive to the people as possible." Well. The House, directly elected and with two-year terms, was designed for responsiveness. The Senate, indirectly elected and with six-year terms, was to be more deliberative than responsive.

Furthermore, grounding the Senate in state legislatures served the structure of federalism. Giving the states an important role in determining the composition of the federal government gave the states power to resist what has happened since 1913 -- the progressive (in two senses) reduction of the states to administrative extensions of the federal government.

Severing senators from state legislatures, which could monitor and even instruct them, made them more susceptible to influence by nationally organized interest groups based in Washington. Many of those groups, who preferred one-stop shopping in Washington to currying favors in all the state capitals, campaigned for the 17th Amendment. So did urban political machines, which were then organizing an uninformed electorate swollen by immigrants. Alliances between such interests and senators led to a lengthening of the senators' tenures.

You'd almost think that the "uninformed electorate swollen by immigrants" didn't vote for the state legislators. But anything that creates distance between voters and their representatives seems to be good in Will's eyes. It's a good thing that he was born into the modern era. Had he been around in 1776, you know he would've supported the Redcoats.


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