The overwhelming response to the tea parties and town hall meetings is indicative of the feeling of powerlessness; that our elected officials are not listening to us; nor do they care. How is it that we as a republic have reached a point where the political class no longer fears the wrath of their constituents? Where did we go wrong? I believe one of the main turning points in our history was the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment. This amendment needs to be repealed.
The Seventeenth Amendment was passed in 1913. Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives wanted a more responsive federal government. The Progressives believed that the current system where the state legislatures determined who would become a senator was fraught with corruption. The party bosses who cut deals in smoke-filled, backrooms; where moneyed interest determined who would rise to the top, and who won’t, was repugnant to the electorate. Does this sound familiar? Have things really changed since the adoption of a popularly elected Senate; as opposed to the determination of state legislators?
During the 2004 Pennsylvania primary, leaders of the Republican Party endorsed Senator Arlen Specter over the conservative challenger, Pat Toomey. Specter won, only to defect to the Democratic Party when he realized that the probability of his reelection in a contested primary would end in defeat. Senator Lincoln Chaffee, the most liberal republican at the time, also received favorite son status from the same suspects in the 2006 primaries against an impressive conservative, Steve Laffey: the Mayor from Cranston, Rhode Island. Chaffee won the primary, only to lose to Sheldon Whitehouse. Now, we have the Republican National Committee endorsing another “moderate”, Charlie Crist: Governor of Florida. Crist is reportedly running for the senate seat that is being vacated by Mel Martinez. Marco Rubio, a conservative, has formed an exploratory committee for that seat. The Republican National Committee has endorsed Charlie Crist, in effect making a pre-emptive strike against Rubio’s candidacy. I guess we can forget about circumventing the party bosses, and the smoke-filled backrooms. The Progressives, though their intent was noble, failed miserably.
We have seen time and time again, politicians who make promises in one area only to contradict them in another. Who knows better about the needs of a constituency than a representative from that district? Who knows better about the motives of a politician, than a fellow politician who works with a prospective candidate everyday; and can guard his district from their nefarious lies?
We ordinary citizens do not have the time or the means to check every aspect of a piece of legislation, or to know the ulterior motives of an elected official from across the state. That was the intent of our founding fathers; to have officials that would ensure the integrity of that noble institution, and safeguard the interest not only of the citizens, but that of their respective states. Instead of having ambassadors in the senate, we now have super-legislators that are only responsive to the voters when it comes time for reelection.
There was a time when senators didn’t have to raise money for campaigns; and naked ambition was frowned upon. This understanding held for many years; until the Age of Jackson, when officials began to openly campaign for the office. It was just a matter of time when moneyed interest began to show its ugly head; forcing legislators to back candidates of dubious character. I have often heard the old adage that cream rises to the top; well so does scum.
We are in an age where interest groups from outside of a state, are financing the campaigns of politicians in another. These interests vary from ordinary citizens to corporations, non-for-profit groups, labor unions, and other state parties. Everyone has the right to free speech, and can demonstrate that by making donations to candidates. But in essence, are we not in violation of the spirit in which our founding fathers envisioned what a senator represents; and that is advocates of their respective states? The Seventeenth Amendment brought an end to this fundamental concept. Now we have rampant populism, and the ever expanding growth of a central government. If we repeal the Seventeenth Amendment, it would deemphasize the role of the federal government, and bring to the forefront states rights.
With the advent of a popularly elected senate came the disparity between urban and rural areas. I ask you does Detroit reflect the values of all the citizens of Michigan; does New York City speak for upstate New York? By shear numbers, the urban voter drowns out the voices of those from across the state, and elects politicians who would cater to their values and ideals.
I believe the wisdom of our founding fathers by conceiving the Electoral College resembles that of the Senate: a dispersal of power, and a healthy distrust of majority rule. Can you imagine if we passed a constitutional amendment to repeal the Electoral College, and implemented the popular vote? The most populist of cities, and particularly the states that inhabit them, would be catered too. There is a possibility that some states would no longer see a presidential candidate, because they do not have the numbers to garner their interest. Wait a minute…We see that today! Can you image what it would be like if we actually became a democracy?
I realize there is a reluctance to give up a direct vote on who should represent us in the upper house of the legislative branch in our federal government. But we must look around, and come to the realization and wonder: would these self-aggrandizing buffoons obtain that prestigious office, if my state senator and congressman had their insight, and say? And if those senators acted against the interest of their state; those same state legislators who put them in office would have an easier time to recall the scoundrels.