World’s Greatest Deliberative Body

Lisa Kramer

Lisa Kramer is a contributing contributor at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

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31 Responses

  1. Robert Cheeks says:

    “There are, of course, those who don’t think the Senate is broken at all, and that it is operating – as it was intended to – as a check on the passions of the lower chamber.”

    This could only have been written by a frustated progressive, which is always a good thing. However, like every human endeavor there can be improvements. Here’s some of my suggestions:
    1. Return to electing senators by the state legislative bodies. End the popular election of senators.
    2. Limit senate sessions to six months/year.Report

    • North in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      @Robert Cheeks, I like the first one Bob, but why on earth the second? I don’t wanna pay a Senator for half a year to sit on his or her ass.Report

    • Plinko in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      @Robert Cheeks, I still have yet to see a single coherent argument for reverting to the election of Senators by state legislators. The second is almost a non sequitur. Which of the Senate’s numerous flaws would be fixed by having them work even less than they already do?Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to Plinko says:

        @Plinko, Dude, you gotta be an eastern, elite university grad: the effort would be related to disempowering the central gummint by having the senator be more interested in his/her state on account of the state legislators elect his sorry ass.
        Re: the second pt: it’s rather obvious that keeping these corrupt individuals outta Washington City is a good thing.
        So the whole point is to limit commie-dem legislation, re-introduce ‘state’s rights’ (look away, look away, look away Dixie land…), and really piss off the consolidators, the Marxists, Maoist, and fellow travellers populating the commie-dem party.Report

        • Plinko in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          @Robert Cheeks,

          Wisconsin, thanks, but I don’t get the idea that somehow putting Senatorial elections in the hands of corrupt state legislators is somehow an improvement. You’re buying into the fantasy that time in our ‘City on a Hill’ is causing the corruption and that somehow being at home would keep the bribes from coming and keep interest groups from having outsize power.Report

          • Robert Cheeks in reply to Plinko says:

            @Plinko, I do hope I’m not “buying into a fantasy”. Actually, the state’s rights resurgence is probably not going to be successful because people today are so propagandized by their sad and unfortuante statist educations. So, I guess, we’ll have to wait until Obama collapses the economy and we do the chaos thing before people might want to abandon statism and return to republicanism, but maybe not.Report

      • Simon K in reply to Plinko says:

        @Plinko, Easy. The constitution was designed on the assumption the senate would represent the states, more specifically the interests on the elite in each individual state, which at the time were quite diverse. It continued to work that way in spite of popular election for a while because, in essence, state governments continued to bias popular elections. Combine that with the hardening of the party system, and the senate has come primarily to represent the electoral interests of the minority party. Its not a very good vehicle for doing this – in particular the minority isn’t held accountable for its obstruction because voters don’t part attention. Instead blame gets diverted onto the majority, the minority takes over, and the cycle repeats. No one gets a fair shot at implementing their agenda. Legislative appointment would force the senate back into its role of representing the states, since state legislators have very different motivations and much longer memories than voter.Report

  2. Lisa Kramer says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how many smart people virtually deny the importance of popular will as a hallmark of any democracy, including American-style democracy. Yes, we have checks and balances, but they are only intended to temper some of the excesses of popular will, not make it irrelevant. Electing Senators through state legislatures? Continue rules (including the filibuster in its current form) that halt a democratically-elected majority from accomplishing its agenda? I’m not at all comfortable with such complete anti-majoritarian stances, even at the times when I support the policy end-game.Report

    • @Lisa Kramer, people who support electing Senators through state legislatures must really trust their state politicians… I don’t have enough of a handle on Maryland politics to know who it would benefit here, but in North Carolina state-legislature-appointed senators would no doubt be another way that the rest of the state tries to give Charlotte the bad side of every deal.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to William Brafford says:

        @William Brafford, Mr. Brafford, you do have a point that I must concede. Contemporary Americans, including those in sundry state senates do not, generally, share my enthusuasium for limited gummint and crippling the consolidating beast. Nor do they even understand my archaic use of language..alas.
        However, human nature is grounded on self interests, consequently based on that (perhaps I’m wrong?) I think I have a better chance to cripple, halt, delay, and possibly defeat those statist/progressive/commie-dem interests that presently dominate the waking thoughts of our mainly incontinent Senate.Report

      • @William Brafford, Maryland politicians are, in terms of corruption, not as bad as Louisiana and not as good as Wisconsin. My opposition to repealing the 17th amendment has nothing to do with what that would mean for Maryland – I just don’t like adding another barrier to popular will.

        That, plus, appointment of Senators by state legislatures denied W.J. Bryan of a Nebraska Senate seat. “If it’s good enough for Brady, it’s good enough for me.” 🙂

        North Carolina legislature is anti-Charlotte? Learn something new every day.Report

    • Robert Cheeks in reply to Lisa Kramer says:

      @Lisa Kramer, Lisa, I’m going to guess that you’re ok with the Arizona vote that indicated Arizonians are not real fond of “illegal” Mexicans? Or, how about the recent vote in some state I’ve forgotten where homosexual marriage was shot down by a significant majority?
      I’m no more comfortable with your blessed majoritarianism than I am with most of the gummint forms currently in vogue.
      In fact I’d limit those allowed to vote to American citizens who (1) served in the military in a combat, (2) or own property and pay tax on that property (3) or has been employed for at least two years and pays taxes on the wages earned.! NO ONE ELSE VOTES!Report

      • @Robert Cheeks, I made it pretty clear in my post last week about the Perry decision that I’m extremely reluctant – though not 100% opposed in all situations – to overturning a popular vote.

        At least you’re honest about wanting to severely curtail democracy rather than pretending that it’s already the “American way” to throw up endless roadblocks to democracy and make decisions through courts. Personally, I think your restrictions are a bit nutty, but you think my views make me a commie-dem (although, mercifully, you haven’t lumped me in with the Eastern Elite yet).Report

        • Robert Cheeks in reply to Lisa Kramer says:

          @Lisa Kramer, Sweetie, I missed your post last week, plus, at my age it’s difficult to keep track of the authors, though I do know a few. I’ll keep an eye on your stuff.
          “A bit nutty…..??” Well, I’ve been called worse and since I lable all you kids to the left of Attilla as “commie-dems”, I like to think I can take and dish it out.
          As far as your ‘progressive’ ideas, yeah, I do think you and your fellows here are ‘nutty.’ Democracy usually leads to the dictatorship, that’s why I’m a republican, a John Randolph of Roanoake republican..and, of course, I’m appalled by all forms of statism. But, I think you’re a ‘nice’ commie-dem. I’ll let you know about ‘eastern, elite commie-dem.’Report

    • cfpete in reply to Lisa Kramer says:

      @Lisa Kramer,
      Where are the Lib Dems?
      I understand your frustration and desire for a more parliamentary, “winner takes all,” electoral system.
      However, the Democratic and Republican party have made it almost impossible to start a third party.
      A question?
      Who was the only presidential candidate that went through the excruciating process to get on the Texas ballot?
      Answer: Bob Barr.
      The Democratic and Republican party both missed the deadline to qualify for the Texas presidential ballot – were they excluded from that ballot – of course not.
      The law does not apply to the two major parties.
      The law in every state is written to ensure their dominance.

      “It never ceases to amaze me how many smart people virtually deny the importance of popular will ”
      Popular will does not agree with your Democratic party or the Republican party.

      I have no trust in the corrupt Democratic politicians you favor, nor do I trust the Republicans.

      All else being equal, I have little interest in giving your favorite pols more power!!!Report

      • Lisa Kramer in reply to cfpete says:

        @cfpete, Ah, you’ve caught me on one of my quirky, Achilles heel issues; despite my desire for more “winner take all” rules, I’m actually pretty supportive of the 2-party system. I say this even though my own brother is a former national co-chair of the Green Party, and this is a very common family debate. I’m fine with reforming ballot access laws, I’d certainly reform campaign funding laws, and I’m very supportive of Instant Runoff Voting, but I draw the line at proportional representation and coalition governments. Those are the true holy grails of third-party advocates. Of all the problems with today’s democracy (and there is no shortage of problems), I just don’t think the 2-party system ranks.Report

  3. Tim says:

    “Master of the Senate” is the best book to read on how the Senate has historically operated.Report

  4. T. Greer says:

    At risk of sounding self-serving, I wrote a blog post over at my site earlier this year that the commentators here might find interesting.

    It was prompted by another excellent expose on the Senate’s woeful state of affairs, “Mr. Woebegone Goes to Washington: When Did the Senate Become Such a Cynical Place?”, Jessica Senior’s March entry for New York Magazine. As she writes better than Packer I recommend it over the piece that began this discussion, but both come to remarkably similar conclusions. In response to Senior’s disgust with a Senate-turned-House of Representatives, I wrote the following:

    A Few Thoughts on the Senate.
    “T. Greer”. The Scholar’s Stage. 29 May 2010

    Senior seems surprised that the Senate has become a second House of Representatives. She should not be. We have thrown out the institutional checks the framers designed to prevent the Senate from becoming slave to ‘popular fluctuations.’ It was only a matter of time before the norms that maintained the Senate’s dignity were also discarded.

    The institutional check I refer to is the original method by which our senators were chosen. While the members of the House of Representatives were chosen directly by the people, the senators were chosen by the legislatures of the states they represented. Senators were not thought of as representatives of the people, but as delegates from the states. Not unlike today’s diplomats, the only link between these statesmen and the people they represented were the governments the latter had elected.

    This connection was a tenuous one. As the prominence of state governments on the national stage receded over time the number of people comfortable with the role these governments had in selecting their representatives grew smaller. The end result was the Seventeenth Amendment, which brought senatorial elections to their current form.

    The consequences of this change are worth reflection. The amendment is usually championed as a triumph of democracy and direct representation. And so it was, when first implemented. Yet the amendment has not aged well. A century of population growth and technological progress has changed the nature of our political system in ways the original writers of the amendment could not have foreseen. Popular election was supposed to weaken state political machines, reduce corruption, and place the mass of the citizenry upon a commanding height where none could touch them. This has not happened. Corruption on the state level was simply replaced by corruption on the national level. Senatorial elections have became national affairs; the senators who win are those who gain the financial and political support of the corporations, donors, and politicians from the nation’s cashpots. The direct representation promised by the Seventeenth Amendment has proved itself to be illusionary.

    I encourage those participating in this thread to read the rest of my post. Hopefully after reading it none here will have cause to say they have seen no rational arguments for turning the election of senators back to the state legislatures.

    But for the moment this excerpt will do. While I sympathize with the point made by Ms. Kramer and a few others, I do not think democracy has been well served by the 17th. Pure democracy does not fare well when the democrats number in the millions and the representatives must been filtered through the murk of national media and party organizations. This filter has been more damaging to the Republic and her people than the screen of popularly elected state senators ever was.Report

  5. Simon K says:

    It all seems to be part of the consolidation of the 2 parties are ideologically coherent, national entities, along the lines that are common in European politics, which in turn is part of the growth in importance of the federal government relative to the states. Give two ideologically opposed parties an institution like the senate and they’ll do exactly what they’ve done and turn it into a machine for destroying legislation, especially since the American public apparently believes they have an elective dictatorship run by the president and the majority party, which relieves powerful individual senators of any responsibility.

    If we’re going to have British-style consolidated ideological parties where they can’t seriously be expected to compromise, we also need to have Westminster style institutions where the opposition’s power to obstruct the governments program is far less. They can only really cause delays, make the government look stupid, or at the most force government members to defect or abstain, which almost never happens (if it did it would cause a confidence vote and a new election).Report