Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Tea Party and the campaign to repeal the 17th(?) amendment

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.

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.)
Read the rest here.

1 comment:

redshield3 said...

Possibly the first policy issue I've heard out of the Tea Party that I've agreed with at any level. However, they should probably check out the numbers first: FiveThirtyEight.com has a good post on this topic. (http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/05/department-of-colossally-stupid-ideas.html)

I think 100% publicly funded elections at a Federal level would do much to address the concerns the 17th amendment repealers have. During a report I heard about the Connecticut senate race (Richard Blumenthal & Vietnam, etc), it was mentioned that Rob Simmons essentially got bought out of the Republican primary race by pro wrestling's Linda McMahon, who stated she had $50 million of her own money to spend on winning the seat.

Of course this brings its own set of problems, PACs et al. Perhaps it's impossible to prevent this kind of behavior. The two possible and unfortunate corollaries to this conclusion either that it was essentially designed to behave this way (and I feel there's some merit to this idea) or that 'the system' is utterly broken and unsalvageable.

Lord have mercy.