Until recently, hardly anyone ever bothered with the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which, if you don’t know, is the one that gives you the right to vote for your United States senator, rather than allowing state legislators to choose a senator for you. But then came the rise of the Tea Party movement, whose members in several states have been calling for repeal of the amendment — and making something of a political mess in the process.Read the rest here.
To be fair, on the to-do list of the Tea Party types, this idea ranks well behind calls to curtail spending and roll back taxes. And yet, as the blog Talking Points Memo reported, the proposal recently became an issue in pivotal House campaigns in Ohio and Idaho, where two of the Republican Party’s most highly recruited candidates got caught up in the moment and declared themselves for repeal, only to try to back off from it later. In the case of Idaho, the candidate in question, Vaughn Ward, lost his primary to a more steadfast anti-17ther.
It is an odd stance, to be sure. (If you really want to start repealing amendments, why not go after the Third Amendment — the one that outlaws the forcible quartering of soldiers in peacetime? Would anyone really mind letting a few cadets stay the night?) But the idea is worth a more serious examination, if only to try to understand the forces that would lead a group of politically engaged Americans to demand the curtailment of their own franchise.
For more than a century after the nation’s founding, as part of the framers’ compromise between Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian ideals, the power to appoint senators rested with state legislators, while the masses got to directly choose members of the House of Representatives. In 1906, the writer David Graham Phillips published a series of articles in Cosmopolitan — a New Yorker of its day — exposing corruption among senators who bought their seats from legislators and used them to get even richer. (Mr. Phillips’s main target was a Rhode Island senator named Nelson Aldrich, a rubber and sugar magnate whose ties to corporate interests make today’s senators, by comparison, look like a fraternity of Buddhist monks.)