So this morning Stan Dubinsky brought my attention to this piece by Christopher Hitchens, which in turn led me to this piece by Ross Douthat, in which he is defending the Tea Party from the charge of being a reincarnation of the John Birch Society thusly:
These parallels are real. But there’s a crucial difference. The Birchers only had a crackpot message; they never found a mainstream one. The Tea Party marries fringe concerns (repeal the 17th Amendment!) to a timely, responsible-seeming message about spending and deficits. Which is why, for now at least, it’s winning over independents in a way that movements like the Birchers rarely did…
I’m with Hitchens in that I grow weary of normal conservatives making excuses for the Tea Party. But that’s not why I bring this up. I bring it up to ask, why would repealing the 17th Amendment be considered a “fringe concern”? I actually consider it one of the more defensible TP positions. (I suspect that the TPers hold this position for reasons different from my own, but why be overcritical of a gift horse?)
The Framers created the House and Senate to be very different institutions, on a fundamental level. Actually, on a number of fundamental levels.
First, they wanted the constituencies to be different. That’s an essential element in making checks and balances work. The president is elected by the electoral college, which in turn is more or less selected by popular vote (although not originally, but hey, one fight at a time), and can only serve four years at a time (let’s also set aside the newfangled term limit). Judges are chosen by the president, with advice and consent of the Senate. The House of Representatives is the People’s House, and consists of directly, popularly elected delegates who have to run for election every five minutes (or two years, which amounts to the same thing), and are therefore particularly attuned to popular whims, ripples and twitches, in real time. Senators, by contrast, are supposed to be somewhat above that fray, and are supposed to represent STATES, not groups of individual voters.
Also, in connection with the idea that senators represent states rather than aggregations of individuals, each state has two, and only two. The idea being that we have the House for the sake of more populous states, and the senate to even things out a bit for the smallest states. At least, thank goodness, in all the “reforms” since the late 18th century, we haven’t done to the U.S. Senate what we’ve done here in South Carolina — utterly destroying the very notion of the senate as a thing apart by imposing single-member districts on it, just as we did to the House.
Nevertheless, what we have done is turn the U.S. Senate into another House, only with longer terms. Which sort of defeats the purpose of a bicameral legislature.
Yeah, I know the reasons why we made the change, and they will be shouted at me in response to this — but they are all arguments more suitable to a democracy than a republic. And the latter is what our founders rightly intended.
And… I also understand by “serious” conservatives would regard this as a “fringe concern,” so perhaps I was being a bit disingenuous above. It’s … esoteric. And for people who have lived their whole lives with the present state of affairs, there seems to be something actually unAmerican about letting legislatures choose senators. And I’m sure that I’ll hear emotional arguments that unfairly conflate the original arrangement with slavery. But what it actually was was an elegant part of a delicate balance, and that balance has been lost, as every member of both of the political branches runs about with his wet finger in the air.
Anyway, I raise the question in case someone has an argument, pro or con, that I haven’t heard yet. And also because, you know, I can’t leave well enough alone…