What is it that one of the right’s brightest lights—George F. Will—and one of its nuttiest nuts—Alan Keyes—and one of its most ethically challenged exterminators—Tom DeLay—have in common?
Each having the usual conservative antipathy for democracy, they don’t much like the Seventeenth Amendment to our Constitution.
Will wrote last year,
The Framers established election of senators by state legislators, under which system the nation got the Great Triumvirate (Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun) and thrived. In 1913, progressives, believing that more, and more direct, democracy is always wonderful, got the 17th Amendment ratified. It stipulates popular election of senators, under which system Wisconsin has elected, among others, Joe McCarthy…
His opposition to the amendment is based on the idea that ordinary folks voting for U.S. Senators is a grave threat to the doctrine of separation of powers, an argument his side lost many, many moons ago. But he continued:
…grounding the Senate in state legislatures served the structure of federalism. Giving the states an important role in determining the composition of the federal government gave the states power to resist what has happened since 1913 — the progressive (in two senses) reduction of the states to administrative extensions of the federal government.
Alan Keyes and Tom Delay and other Tea Party conservatives hold similar views, all based not as much on a principled reverence for federalism, but, as Will suggests, more out of a fear that “the people” would not vote sufficiently conservatively.
Whatever one thinks of their argument—there is a point to be made about the crippling effect of large-scale direct democracy—I was struck by what I found posted by Tom Schaller at FiveThirtyEight.
Titled, “Department of Colossally Stupid Ideas: Repeal 17th Amendment,” Schaller isn’t necessarily calling the philosophy behind the repeal movement stupid, but the politics of it:
What I want to point out is how patently stupid repealing the 17th Amendment would be for Republicans and conservatives–and yes, tea partiers–based on a simple fact: Democrats have long dominated the control of state legislatures. And they currently enjoy a level of dominance unlike they’ve experienced since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
He posted a graph that seems to confirm his point [click on to enlarge]:
As you can see, more than half of the time, since 1968, Democrats controlled the majority of state legislatures and thus would have had the upper hand in picking our U.S. Senators.
But the most interesting thing about the graph is that at no time in the last 42 years have Republicans controlled a majority of state legislatures. At no time.
Suddenly, I don’t find the idea of repealing the Seventeenth Amendment as troubling as I first thought.